If you’re confused about or exasperated by persistent symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, keeping a symptom journal is one of the most effective ways you can help yourself and your doctor.
Whether you have a known medical condition or are experiencing vague clusters of symptoms that don’t fit nicely under a given medical definition, a symptom journal can help you make sense of what you are experiencing. It provides an organized way to gather and track information related to your health.
A symptom log is a tool that you can use to record symptoms of activities in order to supplement or aid your diagnostic or therapeutic process. A physician might ask you to keep a symptom journal for a specific concern or illness, such as migraine, asthma, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, arthritis, PMS, heartburn, sleep disorders, weight management, and during recovery from surgery—just to name a few!
The key information to include in your journal includes:
- Date and time of the symptom
- Type of symptom—e.g, pain, numbness, nausea, headache
- Duration of the symptom
- Triggers—What brought it on? What made it worse?
- Relief factors—What alleviates the symptom, e.g., medication, meditation, exercise?
- Lifestyle Notes—What else is going on in your life at the time? What did you eat/drink?
Be descriptive but also concise on the key points in your entries. Your doctor might ask you to use a rating system for certain symptoms (e.g., 0-5 or 1-10). Be sure to do that honestly, as your entries may make a difference in treatment approaches. Leave room at the bottom of each page for notes on things such as your emotional state, stressors or other factors that might contribute to how you’re feeling that day.
For a symptom journal to be most helpful to you and your physician, you need to use it consistently. Often patterns that you have trouble noticing in your day to day life become abundantly clear when reviewed on paper. Connections between foods, activities, and symptoms that might have evaded you for significant periods of time can suddenly reveal themselves, allowing you to go about finding new ways to mitigate the symptoms.
If you think a symptom journal will benefit how you care for yourself and treat a medical condition, speak to your physician about setting one up.