A headache diary is a way to keep track of headache symptoms, triggers, and treatments. You can review it together with your doctor to help identify patterns, triggering events, and the effectiveness of your treatment plan.

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A headache diary is a record-keeping tool for people who experience frequent headaches or migraine episodes. A headache diary can help you identify your headache triggers so you can take steps to avoid them. It can also help you track which medications help prevent future episodes or decrease your headache severity.

If headaches interfere with your daily activities because they’re severe or occur frequently, consider finding out what’s causing them.

This article covers the benefits of a headache diary and best practices for getting one started for you or your child.

A headache diary is a record-keeping tool for tracking information about your headaches.

A headache diary often includes information about the severity and duration of the headache and factors that may have triggered the headache, like something you ate, activities you did that day, or the weather.

You can fill out a printed diary template, use a notebook, or track headaches on your mobile device or computer.

Experts recommend headache diaries to help with headache diagnosis and treatment. Headache diaries are useful for your doctor because they provide information over time that can be more reliable than memory alone.

Headache diaries can help you:

Identify triggers

Headaches are often brought on by triggers. Common headache triggers include stress, lack of sleep, and certain foods. There’s a wide range of possible triggers, which means it can be difficult to narrow down which ones affect you or your child. A headache diary can help you figure it out.

Find patterns

The more data you have about your headaches, the more you may learn. You can see if your headaches tend to happen at the same time of day or after you eat or drink certain items, like chocolate or wine.

You may be able to see if your headaches connect to a particular allergy season, weather event, or time of the month. A diary might be particularly useful for monitoring how monthly hormone changes affect your headaches.

Share information with your doctor

If you get treatment for your headaches, whether from a primary care doctor or a neurologist, it can help to have some information ready to go. In fact, headache specialists often provide headache diary worksheets for people to fill out between appointments. It can be hard to rely on memory alone when explaining the concern to your doctor.

Monitor the effectiveness of treatment

Headache treatments vary, depending on what type of headache you have. For example, medications for preventing migraine and cluster headache attacks can sometimes take time to work. A headache diary can help you see if treatment helps over time.

You may also need to use a combination of different treatment methods to manage your headaches.

By tracking your headaches in a headache diary, you and your doctor can better understand how well your treatment works and if you need to make adjustments.

Keep an accurate record

Remembering how many headaches you have in a given month is often difficult. When it’s time to connect with the doctor, many people under or overestimate the number of headache days they have. Keeping a headache diary means you don’t have to rely on your memory. You have a written record ready to go.

Starting a headache diary can be easy, but filling it out regularly and accurately can take some effort.

Headache diary formats

Headache diaries can come in many formats, like a:

  • printed worksheet
  • notebook
  • mobile app

You may also see headache calendars, but these tend to include less information than a diary.

What to include

Information commonly tracked in headache diaries includes:

  • the time the headache started
  • how long it lasted
  • the severity of the headache (on a scale from 1 to 10)
  • description of the pain (throbbing, pulsating, sharp, etc.)
  • location of the headache (right, left, center)
  • other symptoms like nausea or sensitivity to light
  • potential triggers
  • whether you took preventive or rescue medications or not

To identify potential triggers, start by including some basic information about the day of the headache, for example:

  • what you ate and drank before the headache began
  • activities you did that day, like exercising or working at a computer
  • the weather that day
  • how much you slept the night before
  • your emotions or stress level
  • the date of your last period

To track the efficacy of headache treatments, consider adding information on:

  • medications or alternative remedies you took
  • when you took the medication
  • how quickly the medication took effect
  • how well the medication or remedy relieved your pain

Best headache diary apps for your phone

Headache diary smartphone apps can make tracking your headaches and health information easier. Apps may help you visualize trends over time more clearly than a written diary. Some apps allow you to send information to your doctor electronically.

Here are a few to try:

For more, see Healthline’s picks for best migraine apps

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Here are some tips and best practices for keeping accurate records:

  • Keep your diary close by at all times or in an easily accessible place where you won’t forget it.
  • Set a reminder on your phone to fill out the diary each day, even if you haven’t had a headache.
  • Choose an app that allows your doctor access to your diary.
  • Review your diary with your doctor regularly.
  • Pick a simplified format for children to use. A pre-printed workbook, like this headache journal for kids, may be a good choice.

Almost anyone experiencing headaches three or more times a month may benefit from a headache diary. You may also need a headache diary if you:

  • get headaches that worsen or negatively affect your daily activities
  • start a new medication that causes headaches
  • think your headaches occur due to certain foods or activities
  • hear your child often mention that they get headaches. One 2002 study suggested that having a child fill out a headache diary can make them pay attention to their symptoms and improve diagnosis.

But if you’re getting headaches more than once a week or they seem to worsen over time, it may be time to contact a doctor.

A headache diary lets your doctor see patterns in your headaches and understand if your medication works for you.

Based on your headache diary, your doctor may want to change your treatment plan, prescribe new medications, or adjust your current medication dosing.

  • A headache diary is a record-keeping tool for people who often have headaches.
  • It gives you and your doctor insight into your triggers and the best way to treat and prevent your headaches.
  • Almost anyone experiencing frequent headaches can benefit from using a headache diary.
  • You can keep your diary in paper form or download a mobile app.