Confused about Your Symptoms? Keep a Symptom Journal

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 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
  • Type of symptom (pain, numbness, nausea, headache)
  • Duration of symptom
  • Triggers (what brought it on, 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. 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.

References

  • Ferrari R, Russel AS. “Effect of a symptom diary on symptom frequency and intensity in healthy subjects.” J Rheumatol. (2010) 37(11):2387–2389.
  • AAFP.org. Hodge, B. “The Use of Symptom Diaries in Outpatient Care” (May-June 2013) Accessed 11 Apr 2019. https://www.aafp.org/fpm/2013/0500/p24.html

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