Improve Your Personal Health by Keeping a Symptom Log
Keeping a symptom log is a great way to track what is going on with your health. You can use it not only to record your symptoms for your own knowledge but also to provide it to your doctor to aid in diagnosis. By keeping a detailed record of symptom frequency, pain levels, and emotional state, your doctor will gain a clearer understanding of what you’re experiencing and find connections between cause and effect that you haven’t noticed. Your physician can then use that information to determine the best treatment options for you.
What is a Symptom Log Like?
A symptom log does not have to be done in an overly complicated way. A simple notebook and pencil will do. It is totally up to you what you do and don’t record, but you may wish to ask your doctor for advice. Depending on your conditions (or suspected conditions), you may want to include daily activity level, anything new you eat or drink, and medications you use (including OTC meds and supplements like vitamins and herbs).
Why Should I Keep a Log?
Symptom logs can be especially helpful in assisting your doctor in treating a chronic condition such as migraines. For instance, he or she will be able to help you identify triggers, such as particular foods or stress, and warning signs that a migraine may be coming. If you are currently on medication, you’ll both be able to tell if it is working like it should. Having all of this information will allow both you and your doctor to see trends that may not be obvious if the information is limited to just symptoms. You may wish to create a template on your computer if you will be tracking a number of different symptoms (or conditions).
This process can also help you, as the patient, keep track of your progress on self-management of your condition. Keeping records of self-management activities will let you know where you are succeeding and when you should reach out for help. This doesn’t just apply to your physical health, but your mental health as well. For instance, if getting more sunlight and exercise is not alleviating your mild depression, you may need to ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor so you can learn more behavior modifications.
What Should You Include?
Your symptom log should at the very least include when the symptoms occur, how often they occur, where the pain is located, the type of pain (i.e., “burning” or “tingling”), and how long the symptoms last. For some conditions, it’s also helpful to record social and work activities, the weather conditions, and menstrual cycles. If you have visible symptoms such as swelling or rashes, consider taking a photo.
Take it to the Next Level
If you wish to create a symptom log using a word processing program, you could also set up a cover page with your medical information such as height, weight, known allergies, and a list of previous surgeries and/or diagnosed conditions. You could also list your primary doctor’s name and contact information as well as that of any specialists you see. The second page could include the names and dosages of all medications you regularly take, including OTC medicines. You could also purchase page protectors to hold relevant information such as copies of the current year’s lab results, any take-home instructions your physician or the ER has provided to you, and any medical records you may have. A history of immunizations can also be very helpful, especially for adult vaccines such as TDAP boosters.
Keeping a symptom log such as this takes a little time, but considering how much it can help you and your doctor, it’s well worth the effort.