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Migraine Diary Tips: How to Keep Track of Your Headaches

Keeping a migraine diary

Keeping a detailed migraine diary makes you the MVP of your treatment team. Why? Because a migraine tracker journal ensures an accurate diagnosis, uncovers headache triggers, and pinpoints which treatments work for you — and which don’t.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, only five percent of migraineurs have been seen by a healthcare provider and received an accurate diagnosis and appropriate care. With a headache journal, you’re more likely to have the information you need when approaching your headache doctor, and reduce your migraine frequency and severity.

Read on to learn how a migraine diary connects the dots to better headache care and what you should record to be most successful. You might be surprised about some of the attributes you’ll want to note, such as time of day!

Here’s what to record in a migraine diary

Your migraine diary will be useful for both yourself and your doctor. So talk with your migraine-care doctor about your journal’s focus — the tracking details will vary depending on whether you’re getting a new diagnosis or fine-tuning your management strategies. But you may find you need to write everything from your symptoms to the severity, triggers, and more. Here are a few of the most common things to include.

1. Write down symptoms in your migraine diary.

Sharing your symptoms with your doctor is essential for an accurate diagnosis. Some migraines are “episodic,” meaning they happen from time to time, and some are chronic, which means having a headache more than 15 days a month. There are also various migraine types, like migraine with aura or migraine without aura. Symptoms to track include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Sound sensitivity
  • Aura (flashes of light, vision loss, tingling and numbness, difficulty speaking)

    2. Record prodrome symptoms in your migraine tracker journal.

    These early warning signs of a migraine attack can be subtle and can start up to a day before your migraine begins. Here’s what to watch for and record:

    • Mood swings
    • Irritability
    • Depression
    • Fatigue and yawning
    • Nausea
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Muscle stiffness
    • Increased urination
    • Light and/or sound sensitivity

      3. Note the location and quality of headache pain.

      Migraine pain is generally on one side of the head and pulsing or throbbing. Track whether your headache pain is:

      • On one side of your head
      • At the front or back of your head
      • Behind your eyes
      • Throbbing
      • Pulsing
      • Dull
      • Sharp

        4. Record the severity of migraine.

        The intensity of your symptoms are often measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being slight discomfort and 10 being debilitating. Measure the severity of:

        • Head pain
        • Nausea
        • Sensitivity to light, sound, smell

          5. Record your migraine triggers.

          Migraine triggers are notoriously personal — the conditions that prompt attacks for some are no big deal for others. Knowing your migraine triggers can help you reduce the number and severity of your attacks. You may track:

          • Stress levels
          • Strong smells
          • Bright artificial light
          • Sunlight
          • Poor sleep
          • Caffeine
          • Alcohol intake
          • Changes in the weather or barometric pressure
          • Daily exercise
          • Hunger
          • Aged cheese
          • Dehydration
          • Medications
          • Hormonal fluctuations for women (menstruation, pregnancy, menopause)

            6. Track your migraines’ timing.

            Do you wake up with migraines, get your migraines at work, or get them when you come home? Timing matters in migraine treatment. Here’s what to track:

            • Morning, midday, or night
            • Hour (4 a.m., 9 p.m.)
            • Weekday or weekend
            • Timing of medications (over-the-counter and prescription)

              7. Record your medications in your migraine diary.

              Record your medication intake, timing relative to onset of headache, response, and any side effects. Track the following:

              • Prescription migraine medications
              • Non-prescription headache medications
              • Medications you take for other conditions

                8. Write down non-medical interventions.

                Track the non-medical migraine tools you use as well. Record the days you meditate, for example, or the level of relief you experienced using narrow band green light therapy. Possible interventions to record include:

                • Morning meditations
                • A new yoga practice
                • Using a targeted narrow band green light lamp
                • Improvements to your overall diet
                • Pressure point massage
                • Acupuncture
                • Supplements

                  What to do with your migraine diary

                  The key to a helpful migraine diary is daily tracking. Your commitment will pay off as you and your doctor make connections and notice patterns. Here are some tips to make tracking manageable and beneficial.

                  • Track your symptoms at the same time each day. Pick a time, such as during your lunch break or right after work, to track daily. Avoid tracking right before bedtime when you should be winding down for sleep.
                  • Keep your migraine journal in the same spot. If you are using a physical journal, try placing it on your desk or home workspace rather than on your bedside table.
                  • Share your migraine journal with your doctor. Migraine management is a team effort. So keep your doctor in the loop with your tracking diary.

                    Explore the different types of migraine tracker journals

                    The best migraine diary is the one you will be willing to use daily. Here are the main options for migraine tracking, from a simple notebook to a digital journal that goes everywhere you do.

                    1. Use paper migraine journals.

                    These are for people who prefer a physical copy and writing. Pick a paper journal with an inviting pattern or soothing color. Make things easy by choosing a journal with columns similar to a spreadsheet, or draw your own columns.

                    2. Try digital migraine journals.

                    If you spend a lot of time on your computer or mobile device, opt for an app tracker or an online headache journal.

                    3. Go simple with a spreadsheet.

                    Use columns for the symptoms, triggers, and medications and rows for the date and time. You can add checkboxes to show when you took medication or experienced a trigger. A number scale can clarify symptom severity.

                    4. Use a daily planner or calendar.

                    These are good options if you have an established migraine management plan but want to track your response to a suspected trigger or two.

                    Track migraines at the right frequency

                    Though you should always track daily, your doctor may want you to zoom in for a more detailed look, or zoom out for a broader view. You can track your migraines:

                    • Daily. Record your triggers, symptoms, and treatment responses down to the hour. Daily tracking can help you pinpoint common stressors or your ideal time of day for exercise.
                    • Weekly. This can highlight fluctuations in your weekly stress levels and sleep patterns. Or, it could reveal that your Friday night glass of wine is triggering Saturday headaches.
                    • Monthly. Get the big picture. For women, a monthly tracker can reveal links between headaches and hormonal changes.

                    Discover helpful migraine diary apps and tools

                    If you decide on digital tracking, here are a few helpful migraine diary apps and tools to consider:

                    • Migraine Buddy. (Free, paid premium features) This popular migraine app lets you tap images to show the exact location of pain, customize your symptoms, and track your sleep, among other options.
                    • N1-Headache. (Free, in-app purchases) After tracking your symptoms for at least 90 days, this app provides detailed reports of suspected triggers.
                    • Migraine Insight. (Free) This app is super simple and returns an actionable analysis of your triggers and symptoms.

                    Get a migraine diary template

                    You can build a migraine diary template yourself, or use (and personalize!) our simple tracking spreadsheet: 

                     You can also adapt these templates from The Migraine Trust or WebMD to your requirements.

                    Everything else you need to know about starting a migraine diary

                    How do you stop a migraine diary?

                    Talk to your doctor before stopping your migraine diary to ensure they have the necessary information for optimal treatment. However, you can probably stop tracking when your migraine management plan is established and has reduced your headaches’ severity and frequency. You’ll need to start tracking again if new symptoms emerge, you experience increased attacks, or you need to change medications.

                    How can I track my headache?

                    Tracking your headache requires a dedicated diary or journal because it’s unlikely you’ll remember important details about your symptoms and triggers without one. The migraine diary can be in paper or digital format. The most important thing is making it a daily habit.

                    Start your migraine diary today

                    Now that you know how to track your migraines, go ahead and get started! The sooner you begin recording your symptoms and triggers, the sooner you’ll enjoy a measure of relief from migraine pain.