Why starting a headache diary is a smart way to get relief

by Lindsay Ulrich

Those of us plagued with headaches — or worse yet, the dreaded migraine — know full well that winter can be a time of pain endurance.  Holidays, parties, families, stress, changing temperatures, excess wine and cheese: all these things can trigger serious head pain.  Frequent headaches can interrupt life at the most obnoxious and inopportune moments, and can seem to crop up out of nowhere.  However, if you get to know your headaches, it’s possible to steer clear of triggers and diminish their number and intensity.  First, however, it takes a bit of sleuthing.

It’s important to educate yourself about your own body in order to enjoy good health. As a weekly headache, and occasional migraine-sufferer, I was shocked after speaking with someone who claimed to have never experienced a headache in her whole life.   I’ve also known someone who said he got such bad migraines that he couldn’t eat cheese or chocolate anymore because rich foods sent him to the drugstore for extra strength Tylenol every time he had them.  Everyone’s body is different, and I’ve realized how important it is to know your own body, and identify your triggers., the world’s largest voluntary support organization for headache sufferers, tells readers that different factors affect headaches. These can be environmental, diet-related, hormonal, or weather-related.  The website suggests that “to help prevent migraine attacks, you need to figure out which triggers affect you and which ones don’t. Keeping a headache diary is an effective way to track triggers, and it will help you talk to your healthcare professional about your condition.”  By following this advice, a headache diary will help you to do the following:

Get to know your headache type:

There are different types of headaches, which cause different types of pain.  The most common are tension headaches, sinus headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches.  Each of these headaches has different symptoms and sensations, and is triggered by different things.  Keeping a headache diary can help to better identify your type of headache, and also what type of treatment to focus on.

Get to know your headache schedule:

Often patterns will arise regarding people’s headaches.  In your headache diary, include information such as:

  • Time started
  • Time ended
  • Intensity of pain (eg. on a scale from 1 to 10)
  • Location (eg. on left, temporal side)
  • Treatment or medicine taken
  • Effectiveness of treatment
  • Total hours of sleep during evening
  • Diet
  • Events prior to headache
  • Possible triggers

Get to know your triggers:

A variety of factors can trigger a headache.  The most common causes of headaches are tension or stress that causes tension headaches.   But other triggers can include:

  • Poor posture
  • Bright light
  • Hunger
  • Anxiety
  • Hormonal changes
  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Hairstyles
  • Strong scents
  • Warm weather
  • Sudden changes in weather
  • Lack of sleep
  • Other illnesses
  • Foods like cheese, nuts, chocolate, dairy, cured meats, fermented foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Dehydration

Get professional advice:

A headache diary will provide your doctor with invaluable information with regards to your health since it will detail the factors surrounding the circumstances of your headaches. With this information, not only will you better understand your head, but your doctor will also be able to better recommend treatment options catered to your specific symptoms, helping you to live with sweet relief.

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