For people with chronic or severe headaches, just ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away is not an option. Some people suffer from headaches so severe the pain is nearly unbearable. Others suffer headaches so often their ability to lead normal functioning lives is impaired.
If you suffer headaches that need treatment with acute medication like aspirin or ibuprofen less than five days per month, you probably don’t need to worry, says Hrachya Nersesyan, MD, a neurologist and the director of the OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute Headache and Craniofacial Pain Program. If you need pain relievers more often than that, or you suffer headaches of any severity on more than 15 days per month, you should see a physician or headache specialist, because you may have a primary headache disorder.
“Primary headache disorders are not curable,” Dr. Nersesyan says. “They have to be treated with the goal of managing them. We try to make the headaches manageable so they’re not interfering with everyday life.”
Seeing a specialist is a great step in managing a headache disorder, but your provider will need you to do some work to help fight your headache disorder, and that work begins with a headache calendar.
What is a headache calendar?
A headache calendar is a sort of headache journal. All you need is a plain old calendar, a shorthand system and an understanding of what to look for. If filled out properly, the headache calendar will help you and your health care provider monitor your medication use and figure out what triggers your headaches and what aggravates them.
We’ve designed one you can print out to get you started, if you’d like.
How to keep an effective headache calendar
They key to keeping a truly helpful headache calendar is to keep it simple. Figure out a shorthand that is easy to remember, so you can communicate the maximum amount of information in the smallest amount of space.
Here are some tips for maintaining a useful headache calendar:
1. Mark every day you have a headache with an “H” for regular headache, “M” for migraine, or “C” for cluster.
2. Rate the pain at its worst that day using the following pain scale:
- 1-2: Headache is in the background. You can still function and carry out daily activities.
- 3-5: Headache may be distracting, but can be ignored if you are busy.
- 6-7: Headache is starting to interfere with daily activities. Pain may make it difficult to concentrate. You might experience nausea, light sensitivity or both.
- 8-10: Cannot engage in daily activities. Headache accompanied by any or all of the following: nausea or vomiting, light sensitivity, dizziness, weakness, numbness or tingling in any body part.
3. Write down whatever headache medication you took that day, how much you took and when you took it.
This information may be helpful at your next office visit.
4. Write down any possible headache triggers or aggravators to which you’ve been exposed.
Possible headache triggers may include:
- Caffeinated beverages
- Nitrites/nitrates from processed meats
- Relationship difficulties
- Loss or change
- Menstrual period
- Strong or flickering lights
- Loud sounds
Changes in environment or habits
- Change of season
- Schedule change
- Sleeping patterns
- Skipping meals
Learn more about the options available to you for headache treatment, or make an appointment, at ini.org.