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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 Migraine.com’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. 

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

Comments

  • Deirdre2
    4 years ago

    I like Ubiqi for Android phones. I’m sure it’s probably available for other platforms as well. It let’s you enter a start date and time, pain intensity, place for notes, triggers, treatments, and you can go back and put in and end time when your headache abates. There’s a feature to print out graphs or reports to take to your doctor.

  • ahnonnymust
    4 years ago

    My neurologist recommended an app called iHeadache. She recommended the free version, though there is also a version that’s around $5 if I remember correctly. I’m not sure of the differences. The free version can create charts of your headaches/migraines so you can see how many you have per month. It will email these to your doctor, or you can print this out and take it to your visit. It will also allow you to put in your medications. There’s a huge list of triggers and you can put in your own. I’m not sure if it’s available for android or not, but it is on the iPhone. I’ve found it to be a huge help. I can enter a migraine in a matter of seconds, even jot down notes about it if I need to and it’s all there for me to print and take with me to my appointment. My doctor said it’s also very helpful for treatment like Botox, because some insurance companies won’t approve it unless you can show improvement and this is a great way to show, or not show, that it’s helping. I’m going to be seeing a headache specialist in the next several months (finally got a referral!) and I know this information will be great to take with me when I go. I highly recommend it.

  • Sandy
    4 years ago

    I used to use a free migraine appt for android. Forgot name. But I have become so chronic not able to work. Daily migraine that last for hrs. Computer and phone screens hurt so I find more helpful for pen and paper logs. I created a blank spreadsheet with all the columns I need. I made copies, put in a binder and fill in as needed. I even created a blank daily page to fill in and made copies for those days that cognition is poor (can’t remember when if and when ive taken meds as well as pain # that starts at 1# changes thru the day).

  • Dreamerzina
    4 years ago

    I have many conditions in addition to the hemiplegic migraines and symptom tracking can be very helpful. I used to keep an excel spreadsheet on a cliboard that I would carry around with me to record things, but it became too difficult. Now I use a free online site called, chartmyself.com. It has a log-in name and password. It is customizable to keep track of what I eat, my activities, rate my symptoms, record the weather, there is a space for a journal entry, etc. It has been very helpful. It also has daily reminders that come to my email in case I get busy and forget to record everything for a day. Sometimes I make notes in a notebook and then enter it into chartmyself at a later time when I am feeling well enough to do so. That way, I can also print it out when needed.

  • Nicole
    4 years ago

    Migraine Pal sounds interesting, but the “Use and Disclosure of Information” in their privacy policy is a bit outside my comfort zone.

    ii.2 If you provide personally identifiable information to this site, we may:
    (c) for the purpose of delivering essential services on behalf of Quantified Health, personally identifiable information may be disclosed to Quantified Health’s employees, contractors and affiliated organisations (Associates).

    ii.3 In accepting the terms of this Privacy Policy, you accept that Associates may be located
    outside your home country.

  • Ron
    4 years ago

    I’ve been using an app called Chronic Pain Tracker to log my migraine activity. Using the app you can generate reports that analyze all the data you’ve entered, these reports can uncover hard to find triggers like pressure changes the effects of weather. I’ve been using the app for about two years and I’ve been very diligent in entering at least two records per day. I was able to find that weather is my worst trigger second only to food. The app tracks and analyzes a lot of information, something no one should be without if suffering from migraines.

  • TaylormadenWV
    4 years ago

    I’ve been using a free Android app, MY HEADACHE LOG, for the past few years. It allows me to record me migraine with a start-time/end-time, set the severity level (1-10), input medications taken, set triggers & symptoms, as well as enter notes. This app allows the user to modify the triggers, symptoms, and medications. It also allows email of the migraine log (I usually print out the log before heading to my neurologist).

    I’m also just starting to use MIGRAINE BUDDY by Healint (apparently designed by migraine specialists). I’m not sure if I’ll continue to use this app since it requires an end time for each migraine entry. (I wake up to a migraine each morning and go to sleep with one so does it ever really end?) MIGRAINE BUDDY also allows modification of triggers, medications, relief efforts, symptoms, aura, pain onset map, affected activities, aura, and location at onset. This app also allows the user to export the report, as well as a “connect your doctor” by entering an access code. Other than requiring an end time for each migraine input, it appears to be a very useful app with great graphics.

  • migrainestl
    4 years ago

    I keep an excel spreadsheet. For each day it has 6 small sections–3 for my pain levels at each stage of day (morn/afternoon/eve) & 3 just below each stage where I list which meds I take. I color code the sections to show which meds I’ve taken that day. It helps when I go to my headache clinic to answer “how many triptans, how many pain killers have you had, etc.”. I keep an update on my phone in the notes section & then update on my PC 1x/wk or more.

    I think the key to a great migraine diary is whatever works for you!

  • Maureen
    4 years ago

    I don’t use a “journal,” but I do use my calendar. In my android phone, I can change the day to a different color. If it is a bad one, I create an event called migraine, set the times (this is very general) and change the event color to yellow. If it is not too severe, I use the “memo” tab which is basically like putting a post it note on the day. It just highlights a small square around the date, not the whole day. At a glance, I can see in the “month view” how many, how frequently, and a general sense of how severe my migraines have been. I also use red to mark day one of my menstrual cycle. Interestingly, I have alot of migraines on Day Three. Weird.

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