I have crazy headaches - please help me design a diary to track them

I have crazy headaches that seem to strike me at random. I’m trying to see if there’s something that could be triggering them (diet, weather changes, whatever). I was thinking of creating a spreadsheet with date, intensity of headache (or lack thereof), weather conditions, foods eaten that day, etc.
My plan would be to compile a few months worth of numbers, then sort by headache intensity - highest to lowest. Ideally, there would be common factors in the worst days for headaches, and hopefully provide a clue or two of things to avoid.
My initial thoughts for columns would be things like time of onset (if applicable), # of caffeinated drinks consumed, # of alcoholic drinks consumed, hours of sleep the night before, meds taken, different foods eaten, and any activity that was different for that day.

I’m not trying to get medical advice, of course. I have seen my doctor about this, and she suspects it’s garden variety migraines. After several visits and discussing my situation in great detail, she doesn’t feel that it’s anything scary (like a tumor or a stroke).

Does my plan seem reasonable? Any surprising sources of headaches that anyone’s experienced that I should look out for? I’m trying to compile this spreadsheet on a day like today when I am (knock wood) headache free, and records results everyday, not just the days when I’m in miserable pain.

FWIW, I’m a thirty something female who’s otherwise in excellent health.

No particular advice but also consider tracking what you ate the day before your headaches. I know that sometimes (but not always) if I eat like crap skip meals, fast food late in the day etc… then I will get a migrane in the middle of the night which will affect my next day.

Also emotional issues at the time. IE a screaming match with my ex used to sometimes be a trigger… again not always.

We’re putting requests for amateur medical advice in IMHO these days, so let me move this thither.

twickster, MPSIMS moderator

Thanks for moving this thread, I kinda guessed where the best home for it would be.
Mona Lisa Simpson- Good call on looking at things from the day before. I always think of the headaches as arising quickly from a more immediate source, if that makes sense.

…off to create a spreadsheet. Woot! Saturday night, baby!:slight_smile:

Besides the things you listed, also keep track of your blood pressure to see if there’s a difference when you have them and when you don’t. Elevated BP = severe headaches too.


Every time you get one of the headaches, go online and post about it in whatever the current mini-rants thread is running in the Pit. Then when you want to look them up, just do a search on your name and “headache” in the Pit.

Do you want to tweet about it? I can help you compose a tweet. If you’d like.

I did some tracking, and the strongest correlation is with my menstrual cycle, so maybe put that on the chart. Mine didn’t seem to be affected by food or stress. However, they started when I moved to high altitude, and I expect that increases the sensitivity. I rarely have one when I’m at lower altitude unless menstrual cycle timing applies. It’s like there’s a sensitivity tipping point where I’m prone to having one and something pushes me over the edge, like alcohol, or hormones. That makes it seem random to me.

If you’re going to put food, you might want to put in something that shows a lack of something might be the culprit. For me, headaches are usually triggered by dehydration (lack of water or electrolytes.)

I also have headaches triggered by vision. You might want to see an eye doctor. I have glasses/contacts when I start getting headaches caused by bright lights. I also have polarized sunglasses for these times. Usually it’s about a month out of the year, right after winter.

Stress is another one that causes headaches. I need to spend about 30 minutes per day doing meditative exercises to relax my mind. I found out about these from a psychologist.

Temperature is something you might want to track as well. It’s hard to track dehydration if you don’t feel hot/thirsty. When the weather is really hot, I can’t tell because I’m in an air conditioned room all day.

Also, you might want to track breaks in your routine. Usually, I have a full cup of water with me all day. However, sometimes I forget to fill it, and I just forget to drink water during the day. This sometimes will cause dehydration headaches as well.

One of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal is killer headaches. If you usually drink a lot of caffeine, but skip it on some days, that’s probably your problem. Also, skipping some medications can cause unbelievable headaches.

Oh yeah, one more thing: type of headache. The bright light headaches I get are usually only one one side of my head, while dehydration headaches are in the front. Caffiene headaches are in the back.

I went digging and I couldn’t find my tracking stuff from when I first started getting migraines but what your list is a great start. Might want to add:

menstural cycle
complete food diary. Weird foods set of migraines for different people. MSG is and other additives can be the culprit too
Smoke exposure. A huge trigger for me - the only one that still triggers migraines is marijuana. Just the scent on someone’s clothes is enough to make me run for the drugs :wink:

Add a notes field for what’s happening that day - if you’re not the journalling type just a line or two about the highlights/lowlights is good. This will help highlight any stressors that contribute.

Sometimes things that won’t trigger a migraine on their own will if combined with something else. One woman I know can drink red wine on it’s own and eat chocolate on it’s own but if she has both the same day instant headache. It’s not a simple process but it’s well worth figuring out. You’ll never be 100% successful in prevention but any improvement is good.

Good luck!

I was going to suggest menstrual cycle, too. Also, if you have any issues with dealing with stress, or any mood-related disorders, it might be worth noting how things go in that area too - I don’t know if these things can trigger migraines, but they might have an effect…

I hope you find a way to work out what the problem is - not-knowing things like this can be miserable!

There are some online food-tracking tools such as sparkpeople.com - and I think you can put in notes when you log your food such as “headache started noon” or whatever. I haven’t played around with the reporting capabilities to see how the notes integrate with the food log.

Thank you all for the feedback!
I’ve also added type of headache and time of onset to see if there’s a pattern there.
My BP seems to be pretty good - the doctor measured it when I saw her about the headache, and it was 110/80. I will keep an eye on it, though.

I had a vague recollection of having the same crushing headaches for 3 days sometime last year, so I mentioned that to the doctor. She flipped through my file , and that last visit was a year ago to the day. Maybe the daylight savings switch was enough to get the ball rolling? I am ridiculously sensitive to not getting enough sleep. Hmmm…

On to obsessive self-tracking,
Amateur Lab Rat

Were you having the headache when you saw her, though? I learned that I can’t take any D antihistamines because they spike my blood pressure. The first time I took Claritin-D, I had a hellish headache that didn’t let up for three days. I didn’t connect the dots until I tried it again a year later and eight hours after taking the pill not only was my head killing me, my blood pressure was still 150/88. Usual for me is ~120/68.

The second time I worked out the link between the medication and the headache because in the time between I brought my mother to the ER with chest pains and her doctor lectured her about her wildly high blood pressure, and grilled her about other symptoms. I asked if a relentless headache was a symptom too given that she’d complained about it hours before, and the doctor curtly said that it was a big clue that your BP is too high.