Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on August 28, 2023
Why Keep a Symptom Diary?

Why Keep a Symptom Diary?


Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms come and go. One day you're fine, but the next you may be too tired to get out of bed. Lots of things can affect the way you feel, from the weather to the medicines you take. A diary can help you track your symptoms and look for patterns that may explain why they're happening.

Low-Tech Is OK

Low-Tech Is OK


Your diary doesn't have to be fancy. You can write it by hand in a journal you keep near your bed. Keep a log of how you feel every day and what you were doing when your symptoms started. You might write, "Yesterday I went shopping. I barely slept last night. Today, my symptoms were worse. My left arm felt weaker than my right."

Go Digital if You Like

Go Digital if You Like


Free apps can help you manage your MS on your smartphone or tablet. Some let you track your symptoms along with your energy level, mood, medicines, and activity. Others sync the way you feel to the day's weather forecast and let you share your journal with your doctor.

Learn the Signs of MS

Learn the Signs of MS


To keep an accurate log, you need to know what to look for. Some common MS symptoms you may have:

  • Intense fatigue that starts early in the morning or comes on suddenly and gets worse
  • Weakness in your legs and feet that makes it hard to walk
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms, legs, or face
  • Muscle stiffness and spasms
  • Double or blurred vision, or fast eye movements
  • Dizziness and balance problems
What Info Should You Include?

What Info Should You Include?


Under the day and date, write down your symptom and add details like:

  • When it started and ended
  • Whether it was something new or you've had it before
  • How severe it was on a scale of 1 to 5
  • What was happening when it started (for example, a hot day or you were exercising)
  • How it affected your activity
  • What you did to treat it, and whether that helped
How to Track MS Flares

How to Track MS Flares


When your symptoms strike up again after a period of calm, it's called a relapse. They can be mild and barely noticeable, or intense enough to interrupt your life and job. Use your diary to record any changes. Share this info with your doctor so you get the right treatment.

Monitor Your Medicines

Monitor Your Medicines


Drugs that slow your disease or treat relapses can help you manage your symptoms. Keep a record in your diary of every medication and supplement you take. Write down the dose, whether it helped your symptoms, and what side effects you noticed after you took it.

How the Weather Makes a Difference

How the Weather Makes a Difference


Does your vision get blurry or do you feel more tired when the temperature goes up?  Flare-ups that are linked to heat are usually temporary, but they could affect your plans for the day. When your symptoms intensify, describe the day's weather in your diary. If heat and humidity cause problems, stay inside in the air conditioning. If you go outdoors, bring fans and other cooling gear.

Pay Attention to Your Activities

Pay Attention to Your Activities


Keep track of your fitness sessions and activities in your journal. Write down how long you exercised, how much effort you put into it, and how it made you feel. When you overdo things it can make your symptoms worse, but it's important to stay active. Exercise can fight fatigue and weakness. Try to balance periods of moving around with rest.

Keep an Eye on Your Energy

Keep an Eye on Your Energy


To help manage your fatigue, write down your energy levels in your diary. Track how well you slept and how tired you were the next day. Compare your activities to how much fatigue you feel so you can figure out when you need to take a break.

Medical Records to Include

Medical Records to Include


Your symptoms tell only part of the story about your MS. For a more complete picture, put your test results and doctor's recommendations in your diary. Some apps compile your medical records for you.

Ask your doctor for a copy of:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reports
  • Blood test results
  • Letters from your doctor to a hospital or other specialists
What to Do When You Notice Patterns

What to Do When You Notice Patterns


Your diary may reveal some common themes. You might notice that your symptoms flare up when you exercise outside in the heat. Or you could discover that you're most tired at midday. Learning these trends will help you adjust your daily activities to fit the way you feel. It can also help your doctor fine-tune your treatment.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions to Ask Your Doctor


Take your diary and a list of questions with you to your doctor's appointment to get the most from your visit. Ask him:

  • What patterns do you see in my symptoms and activities?
  • Am I doing anything that could make me feel worse?
  • What else can I do to control my flare-ups?
  • Do I need to switch to a new treatment or dose?

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National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Multiple Sclerosis FAQs," "MS Symptoms," "Fatigue," "Weakness," "Numbness," "Vision Problems," "Dizziness and Vertigo," "Managing Relapses," "Medications," "Heat and Temperature Sensitivity," "Exercise."

Multiple Sclerosis Trust: "Diary of Symptoms."

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: "My MS Manager."

Move Over MS: "Living with MS: Top 5 Mobile Apps to Get You Through the Day."

Foundation for Care Management: "Managing Multiple Sclerosis."

University of Kansas: "MS Daily Activity Diary."