Tracking your migraine attacks can be a controversial topic for migraine sufferers. The debilitating pain of an attack may be so bad that you just want to forget about it. You might feel too uncomfortable to record the details in the moment, but by the time it’s over you can’t remember enough of what happened. Or you think dwelling on the pain actually makes you feel worse. And of course, it can be difficult.
But careful tracking of your migraine symptoms really can help you find the right treatment, avoid certain triggers, and better prepare for the triggers you can’t avoid.
Remind me again, what are migraine triggers?
Migraine triggers can come from your environment or your lifestyle. For example, many triggers are things that happen around you, such as:
Other triggers have to do with what you put into your body, including things like:
- alcohol and caffeine
- food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or nitrates
- foods, such as dairy products
And still more triggers have to do with other things happening in your life, like:
The thing is, these triggers affect all headache sufferers differently. The trick is to learn which are the biggest triggers for your migraine headache attacks, and work to avoid them.
Migraines are more than just headaches—as you well know—and with symptoms often starting hours or days before the headache or aura begins, it’s hard to rely on just your memory to identify triggers.
So, how do you figure out what triggers your migraines and which treatment’s the most helpful? Use a migraine tracker!
What should I record in my migraine tracker?
There are three main categories of information that can be helpful to include in a migraine tracker:
1. How often do you experience migraine attacks and how are you treating them?
This kind of information is especially useful for your doctor to know. Harvard Health Publishing recommends tracking:
- When the headache begins and ends (both time and day of the week)
- What you were doing when the migraine started
- What you did to try to stop the headache (medications and other remedies)
- How well the treatment worked
One trick for remembering what to record is what a 2018 study calls “the 3 Fs:”
- Frequency of the attacks
- Frequency of acute medication use
- Functional impairment (how much the migraine impacts your life)
2. What does your migraine feel like?
According to the medical journal Consultant, these details can help your doctor diagnose what type of migraine or headaches you have:
- Where on your head is the headache? Around your temples, on just one side, or behind your eyes?
- What kind of pain is it? Does it pulse or throb, or is it more of a dull ache?
- What do you see? Flashes of light, blind spots, or other visual disturbances typical of aura?
- What do you hear? Ringing in your ears? Sensitivity to loud noises?
- What do you feel (other than pain)? Numbness, tingling, or nausea?
3. What may have triggered the attack?
If you already have a good idea of what triggers migraine attacks for you, you can focus on that. If you don’t, this can be the most challenging part of migraine tracking (until your migraine diary helps you figure it out!).
So where should you start? According to the Migraine Trust, this information about your lifestyle can be useful to record:
- How much sleep you’re getting (and your sleep patterns)
- Other medicines you’re taking, including vitamins and other products
- What’s going on in your life and work
- Your exercise habits
- When and what you ate most recently
- When your last menstrual period was
How do I track my migraines?
So, how do you track your migraines in a way that’ll actually help you? Migraines already take too much of your time and energy, so you probably don’t want to spend more time than you need to thinking about them.
It’s important to remember that migraine tracking isn’t all-or-nothing, and you won’t need to do it forever. It’s just a tool to help you and your doctor figure out what’s going on with you. Focus on what you want to know:
- If you’re trying to see if a particular treatment is working, start with the frequency of attacks and medication usage.
- If you’re not sure that you’re having a migraine attack at all, or you don’t know what kind you have, that’s when recording how you feel comes in handy.
- And if you’re trying to figure out what triggers affect you, you don’t need to start by trying to record your entire life. Take it slow, and if you and your doctor aren’t seeing any patterns, you can switch to tracking another potential trigger.
Here are some other tips for getting yourself to do the work when you just don’t want to:
- Use an app like Cove’s migraine tracker. Even if all you can manage to do is record an attack is happening, you’ll still have something, and you can go back and add more details later.
- If the last thing you want to do during an attack is look at your phone, but you can handle writing by hand, you might prefer a paper diary.
- Are you already tracking your menstrual cycle, or using a device that tracks your sleep and exercise habits? You can look that up and add it to your tracker later. At the very least, you can look up the weather after the fact.
What do I do with this tracking information?
A migraine diary can be useful to your doctor. You may forget to tell your doctor about certain aspects of your attacks or leave out information you don’t realize might be helpful. And with your symptoms and triggers tracked over time, your doctor may be able to make a diagnosis faster—and get you the treatment that’ll actually work for your migraines. Plus, the tracker will help a doctor understand whether you're dealing with migraines or another type of headache.
Once you have a few weeks or months of diary data, you’ll be able to use the information for your own migraine management, too. If you can see how your lifestyle and environment are related to your headaches, you might be able to take actions to stop them or lessen them. That might mean avoiding a certain food or changing your schedule to avoid stress.
And trust us, we know avoiding coffee or saying no to a glass of wine isn’t easy...
What if I can't avoid my triggers?
Sometimes, all the tracking in the world won’t help you avoid migraine triggers. Maybe your migraines come on because of unavoidable weather changes or barometric pressure changes, or you can’t fully escape the stress of your job or home life.
That’s where treatment comes in. Cove offers both acute and preventive medication that can help you alleviate migraine pain and lessen their frequency.
How do I use Cove to track my migraines?
If tracking all of this information about your migraines feels like a lot, know that you don’t need to figure it out on your own. Cove’s migraine tracker is designed to help you keep track of all the most relevant information about your headaches, in a quick and easy way.
To learn more about how Cove helps you treat your migraines, click here.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash.