Making a Headache Diary Template

Imagine if the next time your healthcare provider asks you for details about your headaches, you had all the relevant information at your fingertips: how often they occur, how long they last, and what symptoms you had before and after.

Now, imagine using that information to really help yourself — perhaps it would help you identify headache triggers you then can avoid, or indicate that a change in medication might suppress your migraines better.

Does that sound good to you? If so, then it's pretty clear you need to keep a headache diary. Below, I outline what you can do to create your own headache diary template. But first, here's a little more detail on why you should create one.

A woman writing in her headache diary
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What a Headache Diary Does

Simply put, a headache diary helps you track information that's relevant to your headaches. This includes potential triggers, the effectiveness of different medications you might use, and the symptoms you experience.

Once you start writing this information down in a logical format, you might be surprised at how many patterns you can spot.

For example, you might notice that you wind up with a migraine on Friday, which is when your co-worker always brings chocolate to share. Or you might realize that Tylenol (which contains acetaminophen) works far better to knock out your particular headaches than Advil (which contains ibuprofen).

It might seem like a lot of work to jot down every detail of every headache, especially when you're already suffering. But trust me: this can really pay dividends.

How to Create a Template

There are plenty of forms online you can download and copy, plus there are apps you can use for this purpose. But we've found those pre-made templates don't always give you the space you need to include all the relevant information, and more importantly, the available templates aren't always customizable for your own needs.

So we suggest you skip the forms and the apps, and make your own low-tech headache diary template, either in a notebook or on your computer — it's easy. Here's how.

First, buy yourself a basic spiral-bound notebook to use for your headache diary (these cost a dollar or two in the school or office supply sections at discount stores). Open your new notebook to its second page so that you can see (and can write on) two pages across at once.

Next, make a series of columns. Your headings should include the following:

  • Date of headache
  • The start time of headache/finish time of headache
  • Pain level (from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest)
  • Symptoms prior to the headache
  • Symptoms during headache
  • Symptoms after headache
  • Medications used
  • Effectiveness of medication used (from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest)

Based on your suspicions about what might be triggering your headaches, you also might include as headers for columns these items:

  • Foods that are eaten in the past 24 hours
  • Weather
  • Stress level (from 1 to 10)
  • Exercise
  • Exposure to strong scents
  • Caffeine consumption
  • Anything else you suspect may be contributing to your headaches

Two pages across should suffice, even for all these columns. But if that's not enough room, expand the chart to the next two pages in the notebook. Remember to leave yourself plenty of space to write things down — the more information you can gather, the more effective your headache diary will be for you.

Now, use your diary: track everything about each one of your headaches.

Once you've filled up your initial chart, start a new chart (with the same headers on the columns or adjusted headers, based on how well your first chart worked). Over time (perhaps even sooner than you think), your headache diary should become a treasure trove of information about why you may be experiencing headaches — and how you can treat them or even stop them from occurring.

By Teri Robert
 Teri Robert is a writer, patient educator, and patient advocate focused on migraine and headaches.