How a Symptom Diary Can Help With Migraine

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on February 05, 2021

When you take note of all of the things that surround your migraines, it can help you and your doctor learn more about why, how, and when they happen.

The best and most accurate way to get a snapshot of what goes on around your migraines is with a symptom diary.

What It Can Tell Your Doctor

You may be asked to keep track of things for a week, or you might need to record your information for a month, or even longer. From the details in your symptom diary, your doctor may be able to:

  • Figure out the type of migraines you’re dealing with
  • Discover what triggers your migraines
  • Learn what can tell you that a migraine is coming on
  • See how well your medications work to treat or prevent your symptoms
  • Track how treatments work over the long term and make adjustments if needed

What to Include

To get the most out of what you jot down, your doctor needs specific details. You can find migraine symptom diaries online that you can print and use as a guide. You can also download symptom tracking apps to your smartphone.

  • You’ll want to keep up with when your symptoms come and how long they last. Include:
  • How often you get migraines (day and date of each attack)
  • When you first start feeling pain
  • How long each migraine lasts
  • How quickly treatments make symptoms get better or go away

You also need to give your doctor insight into how your migraines make you feel. You can do this by recording:

  • Where you hurt when you have a migraine
  • What the pain feels like (throbbing, stabbing, etc.)
  • How intense the pain is (it’s helpful to use a scale, like 1-10)
  • Any other symptoms you have besides head pain (nausea, vomiting, vision symptoms)
  • What, if anything, helps to curb your migraine pain before it starts (and what doesn’t)

For trigger clues, your doctor will want to know:

  • What and when you eat and drink
  • Whether you’ve skipped meals
  • How much sleep you get
  • What kind of exercise you do, and how often
  • What the weather is like before, during, and after your migraines
  • Work and life activities that might bring extra stress
  • All medications or supplements you take, and when you take them
  • Where you are in your menstrual cycle when a migraine comes           

Sometimes migraines can have phases, or different sets of symptoms that happen before your head pain, during your head pain, and after things die down. It’s helpful to write down how your symptoms change over the course of a migraine episode -- even after the painful attack has ended -- so you can better predict what will happen when your migraines strike.

WebMD Medical Reference



Harvard Health: “Keeping a Headache Diary.”

The Migraine Trust: “Keeping a Migraine Diary,” “Symptoms and Stages of Migraine.”

Stanford Health Care: “Headache Diary.”

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