Migraine & Quality of Life Traffic Light System

My headache specialist introduced me to this color-coded system for rating migraine's impact on day-to-day life, the simplicity and usefulness of which are no less than brilliant: Think about how much migraine affects your life each day in terms of a traffic light. Days in which you're functioning with no impairment are green, those where you're not as active as when you're migraine-free but are still productive are yellow, and red days are the ones you spend wiped out by a migraine attack. You can use the system verbally or make a daily note, whether in your headache diary, journal, or with a colored dot on your calendar.

Replacing the pain scale to describe migraine's impact

I used to struggle to quantify the impact of migraine on my day-to-day life. I tried assigning my productivity a percentage, using a scale similar to the 1-10 pain scale, and describing my impairment in terms of mild, moderate, or severe. None really captured what I was trying to describe. Using the colors -- or terms of "go," "yield," and "stop" -- associated with a traffic light is not only a cinch, but is tremendously accurate.

Tracking the severity of migraine

Perhaps the best part about this system is that it's not just about how you feel physically, but the impact of migraine on your life. For many of us, the reduced quality of life that comes with migraine attacks is as significant as the physical symptoms are. Both the MIDAS and HIT questionnaires provide a similar assessment, but they are retroactive rather than day-to-day. Seeing the impact on a daily basis might be discouraging during a rough patch, but it can also prompt a change in treatment, help assess whether a new treatment is working, and keep tabs on your emotional state.

Each person's traffic light system may differ

Just as pain scales are subjective, the green, yellow, red system is defined by the person who uses it. For me, green days are when I'm mentally engaged and/or physically active the majority of a day. Prior to debilitating daily migraine attacks, I would have classified anything but giving 100% in a day as yellow, but that's not who I am these days. Maybe that will change in time, maybe not. In the meantime, I'll revel in having at least a few green days each month.

I hope this simple, clever system is as helpful for you as it has been for me.

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