By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
Headache is one of the leading reasons for patients to visit their general practitioner and there are various characteristics for different types of headache. A headache diary is a valuable tool to track the progressions, changes and efficacy of treatments for headaches, which is particularly useful for patients who suffer from frequent headache symptoms.
When patients record the important factors about their headaches and share this in the consultation with their general practitioner, it gives a much clearer picture of the condition than reporting symptoms based on memory alone. This allows healthcare providers with the information needed to make the best treatment decisions and improve health outcomes for patients.
Which Information to Record
The information that should be recorded in the headache diary depends on the specific patient case and the aim of the diary. However, the following list is a general guide of useful information to include to provide a suitable outline of the condition:
- Characteristics of headaches
- Frequency of headaches
- Duration of headaches
- Intensity of headaches
- Warning signs
- Related symptoms
- Possible triggers
- Medications used and effect
The information should be recorded on a regular basis to obtain an overall picture of the headache symptoms and treatment. This may continue for a set time frame – one month, for example – or on an ongoing basis to allow the patient and the health practitioner to gain a deeper understanding of the patient’s condition.
It is important to be as specific as possible when recording details about the headaches in the diary. Patients should be instructed to describe the type of pain, such as burning, aching, sharp, dull or throbbing, and rate the intensity of the pain on a scale from 1 to 10.
How to Record Information
The ideal way to record the information in a headache diary will differ for each patient but it is important that each individual finds a medium that they feel comfortable using.
Some people prefer to use a paper form that they can fill out, while others prefer to write notes in a calendar or notebook. There are also electronic headache diaries and dedicated smartphone apps that can help to remind people to fill in the details on their electronic device.
It is best to regularly record symptoms and lifestyle factors in the headache diary, usually at least once a day. This helps to ensure that a complete, broad picture of the headache patterns is recorded, which can help to identify problematic areas and suggest appropriate management techniques.
A headache diary is a very valuable tool that benefits both the patient and the health practitioner. While the patient themselves can begin to see patterns forming in the diary and possibly link certain triggers to headaches, the diary provides more comprehensive information to the healthcare professional than would be possible if the patient recounted event by memory.
Additionally, as the patient trials different treatment methods to reduce the frequency and intensity of the headaches, a headache diary can help to keep track of progressions and the efficacy of different treatments. Any triggers or particular lifestyle changes that have an impact on the nature of the headache quickly become apparent to both the patient and health practitioner who have access to the diary.
Last Updated: Feb 3, 2016