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Use a Headache Log to Help Identify Triggers

Use a Headache Log to Help Identify Triggers

The goal of keeping a migraine log or headache journal is to help keep track of symptoms and triggers so that you can eventually learn to prevent them or at least mitigate the effects.

If you get migraines, I feel for you. Yesterday I got another migraine, but I ran out of room in my handwritten log, so I decided it was time to create a spreadsheet for it.

Download the Headache Log

In addition to creating the headache log (see the screenshot below), I decided to share some of the things I’ve learned about headache and migraine triggers. Some of this has come from things I’ve read … but most of it is just my personal experience. So, obviously it’s not meant to be medical advice.

Headache Log Screenshot

Headache Log Screenshot

This following list is not a comprehensive list, and I’m not going to include obvious stuff like the fact that alcohol can cause headaches. If you are needing to use a headache journal, it probably means you aren’t sure WHY you are getting headaches or migraines. So, if some of the following things help just a few people, I’ll consider writing this up a worthwhile use of my time.

Possible Headache or Migraine Triggers

#1 Water … I used to get headaches almost every day, typically in the afternoons. I thought it was because I worked on a computer all day and was just getting tired. However, a colleague of mine suggested that it might be because I wasn’t drinking enough water. I started drinking a lot of water in the mornings, and those routine headaches nearly disappeared completely. I have since learned that dehydration is also one of my migraine triggers.

#2 Activity … Hitting your head against a wall can cause a headache. But, that’s not what I’m talking about here. Different types of activity can cause different types of headaches. For example, working too long on a computer can make your eyes hurt, resulting in pain in specific locations of your head. I discovered pretty early on that bursts of intense physical activity, such as playing a game of flag football on the weekend or helping somebody load a moving truck, could trigger a migraine. After some experimentation, I discovered that drinking water wasn’t enough (although it helped). But, if I drank Gatorade during the activity, I could usually prevent the migraine. I wouldn’t have discovered this if I hadn’t been keeping a log and trying different things.

#3 Lack of Sleep … This is a common cause for headaches, but I’ve also found that a significant lack of sleep is one of my migraine triggers. I’ve seen “fatigue” listed many places as a common migraine trigger.

#4 Psychic Stress … Okay, this is probably obvious for regular headaches, but it is worth noting in your log. I’ve found that stress alone seems to be able to trigger migraines, but by also noting times when I’m not stressed, it helps me to identify what other things might be triggers. This isn’t to say that I get a migraine every time I get stressed – I’m still trying to figure out some consistent pattern.

#5 Muscle Tension … For me, muscle tension in the neck appears to be both a trigger as well as a symptom of migraines. What I mean is that when I get a migraine, I end up getting pretty severe muscle tension in my neck. But, I’ve also noticed that I often have back pain and tension in my neck prior to a migraine. This of course is probably highly correlated with Psychic Stress, but I’m also starting to wonder if it could also be due to poor posture. Still working on this one.

#6 Food / Diet … A lot of people I know that get migraines mention various foods as triggers. While that doesn’t seem to be the case for me, it seems to be a commonly mentioned trigger. MSG is often mentioned as a trigger. Though MSG typically makes me extremely thirsty for a few hours after eating, I’ve never gotten a migraine due to MSG (that I know of).

#7 Other Triggers … Menstruation is obviously not a factor for me, but it is a very common migraine trigger for women. I’ve never noticed noises, odors, or light to be triggers of my migraines, but I’ve heard and read reports of such things being triggers (and not just symptoms). I’ve also noticed that I tend to get migraines during or after an illness such as a cold or cough. That might be related to the other triggers I’ve listed, but it’s almost a sure thing that if I get sick I’ll end up with a migraine at some point.

This all might sound like I get a lot of migraines. In fact, I only average 2 per month, so I consider myself lucky.

Feel free to leave comments about what triggers you’ve discovered or how keeping a log has helped you. But, this blog isn’t a place to ask medical questions. For that, I’d recommend checking out other forums or support groups on the internet.

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