Using digital migraine diaries/headache journals

As much as I’m a proponent of proactive self-care and being your own healthcare provider (when that’s possible), I do a pretty terrible job of following one key bit of advice I share with y’all pretty frequently.  That is to say, I am really bad at keeping up with a migraine/headache journal.

In the last couple of years, I’ve used my iPhone calendar to keep track of my migraine attacks (or the near-misses I seem to get a lot these days).  Even when I’m feeling like crap, it’s easy to pick up the phone (which, for better or for worse, is usually an arm’s length away) and type in details of that day’s migraine. I even have a separate iPhone calendar with its own color (a murky orange) to represent anything health-related. For example, in my calendar I’ll create a new event on my health calendar—the “event start time” is the time/date when I first noticed any prodrome signs, and the end time is when my most bothersome symptoms abated.  I’ll write something like this (often with misspellings):  “Migraine.  About a 5 on a 10-pt scale. Tried magnesium spray first. When that didn’t work, took Aleve and naratriptan. Migraine was gone (though I was wiped out) within 2 hours.”

I occasionally use’s handy Migraine Meter, a written calendar, or my rarely-updated “health notebook,” which I keep next to my bed and have the best intentions of using regularly but, in truth, rarely pick up.

Recently I’ve begun using a website that is just getting off the ground: Migraine Pal.  I appreciate the daily email reminders for me to update my profile.  (These reminders are sent daily during the first 4 weeks of your signing up, and then they decrease in frequency so that you only get one email a week.)  After logging on with my unique user ID and password, I use sliding scales to rate various factors of my day.  For instance, there’s a scale about caffeine intake.  Not how much I had overall, but how drastically my intake changed from the usual routine. So if I have two cups of coffee a day nearly every day (my old pattern) and then suddenly skip coffee/caffeine a full two days in a row, for those two days on the site I would rate the change in caffeine intake an 8 or so on the 10-point sliding scale.  Another example: if I usually sleep 8 hours a night and then have one night where I sleep only 2 and wake up really exhausted, I would have to use the scale to make note of the fact that my sleep disturbance/pattern change was way up there.

At the bottom of the page, you rate what your risk of migraine was that day. Then you answer two yes or no questions:  did you have a migraine that day? Did you have a headache?  If the answer is “yes” to either, you can select from a LONG list of symptoms/side effects and also write in how you treated your migraine/headache and also add any notes.  In this way, using many different scales, the website measures some of the most common migraine triggers. And after you’ve been using the site for awhile, you can look at charts evaluating your patterns and help figure out what triggers are wreaking the most havoc for you.

I haven’t been using Migraine Pal long enough to endorse it unequivocally, but I will say that, despite some quirks here and there (i.e., after you finish and save an entry, it can throw you off a bit because the page remains the exact same, retaining your information instead of resetting), it’s pretty darn good for a free service.

Do you keep a migraine journal/headache diary?  Are you more apt to keep up with a diary on paper or by using technology?  How have various apps and websites helped you keep track of your migraine patterns and figure out which triggers are affecting you the most?  I’d love to hear about your experience with the Migraine Meter, Migraine Pal, or any other apps/websites (including your phone’s calendar!)  that are or are not working for you. 

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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