Symptom tracking can be a helpful tool to better understand and manage your pain.

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For years I have tracked my migraine pain and triggers in an effort to better understand my chronic pain.

Although it’s a lot of work, I’m so glad that I’ve taken the time to understand my triggers to ensure that I am doing everything in my power to manage my migraine.

While I’m sure that the method of tracking differs from person to person, here’s a look at how I track my chronic intractable migraine.

Symptoms, severity, and frequency

I’m sure that anyone with migraine is familiar with doctors asking them to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest level of pain.

It’s only natural that my personal migraine tracking follows the same scale, noting my number on painful days.

For context, I even titled my memoir, “10: A Memoir of Migraine Survival,” because the experience of living with an unbreaking level-10 migraine has had a profound impact on my life.

In addition to noting the pain scale, I write down the area of pain on my head/neck/shoulders and whether I experienced nausea, confusion/brain fog, numbness, or aura.

For each of those symptoms, I note how often they occurred and the length of each symptom.

Situational triggers

In addition to tracking my pain level and symptoms, I often make note of situational triggers, when necessary.

Examples of what I consider situational factors (note that this is my personal terminology, not medical terminology) are weather (shifts in temperature and barometric pressure), scent, or light (including bright or flashing lights).

Food triggers

Among all of the elements that I have journaled over the years, tracking my eating and drinking has proven to be the most eye opening. Key things that I found myself noting were my water intake (or lack thereof), what I ate and drank prior to the pain, or whether I skipped a meal.

I’ve since learned that I need to constantly stay hydrated and that skipping any meal isn’t an option for me. I always need to have a snack and bottle of water on hand.

Sleep and menstrual cycle

For years, my migraine pain made sleep difficult. So, I decided to track the correlation between the amount of sleep that I was getting against my migraines.

I found that my body responds best to maintaining a consistent sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up around the same time) as well as getting 8 hours of sleep each night.

It’s also important that I track where I am in my mensural cycle, since it’s closely correlated to my migraine pain.


During my process of trial and error with medications for migraine, I’ve found it’s helpful to follow how my daily pain ratings correlate to each new medication.

It’s a great way to quantify whether the new medication is making a difference for me.

All of the great migraine apps on the market today have really changed how easily we can track our pain and house all of our tracking data in one place.

In my opinion, using an app is the easiest way to gather a lot of information over time with minimal effort. Even more, apps allow you to easily pass all of the data along to your doctors.

If using an app feels too daunting, consider starting small and writing down your pain scale number each day to get a baseline read. On days when your pain is worse, make sure that you take note of any other details that feel necessary.

It’s hard to get started, but you may learn something new in the process.

During the initial years that I closely tracked my pain, all of these great migraine apps didn’t yet exist. So, I had to manually write down all of the details of my migraine each day.

Seeing the results on paper proved challenging.

It’s defeating when you feel that you’ve done everything in your power (like avoiding triggers and getting the optimal amount of sleep) and you’re still seeing 10s every single day.

Keep in mind, if you get upset by looking at the results of your pain tracking, you’re not the only one who feels that way. It’s a tough thing to see!

Without a doubt, understanding my migraine triggers has been invaluable. With that said, it’s important to note that, for me, symptom tracking hasn’t been the solution.

Instead, it’s provided a way for me to better understand and manage my pain.

Danielle Newport Fancher is a writer, migraine advocate, and author of 10: A Memoir of Migraine Survival. She’s sick of the stigma that a migraine is “just a headache” and she’s made it her mission to change that perception. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, or visit her website to learn more.