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A Symptom Journal: How It Can Improve Your Health

Keeping a symptom journal may be just what you need.

When you have a health condition, finding balance can be tricky.  There will be ups and downs.  Furthermore, a chronic health condition may lead to imbalances.

A symptom journal can help for your wellness.  

Studies have shown that keeping a symptom journal may lead to the following:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Greater levels of engagement with your health & medical providers
  • Improved understanding of trends or patterns
  • Reduced medical costs
  • Fewer complications with existing health conditions
  • Improved mental health
  • …and the potentially greater likelihood of increased longevity!

Tracking symptoms may be especially relevant for autoimmune-related conditions, thyroid disorders, diabetes and metabolic-related conditions, other chronic health conditions (chronic illness), or general wellness.  The use of symptom journals in outpatient care has shown both diagnostic and therapeutic benefits.

When it comes to preventive approaches, keeping a symptom journal may also be a line of defense.  Doing so may provide clues or indicators to what is going on with your body at an internal level.  This consistent practice of self check-ins can help you to stay on top of things.  Also, to help you avoid tabling any subtle onset of signs or symptoms of imbalance.  

Essentially, maintaining a symptom journal can help to avoid putting yourself and your overall wellness on the back-burner!  

So how can you get started with a symptom journal?

Good things to track may include the following:

  • Sleep metrics (quality, duration, interferences, consistency of schedule)
  • Mood & well-being
    • Motivational trick:  include notating moments of joy or gratitude
  • Energy slumps or patterns related to fatigue
  • Pain, mobility, or joint & muscle irregularities
  • Digestive-related factors (irregularities, quantity, and consistency of bowel movements)
  • Reactions to foods or meals
  • Symptoms showing in the skin
  • Stressful events
  • Exercise patterns
  • Life’s little indulgences (alcohol, sugary sweets, etc.)
  • Medication- and/or Supplement-related information
    • Times taken
    • Side effects
    • Questions for your next medical provider visit
  • Don’t forget about mental health notes, such as memory, focus, or mental concentration

There isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all template.  Selecting the structure and systems best for an easy fit to your daily processes would be best.

Technology may help.  A plethora of mobile applications and other digitized tools have come onto the market in the last 10 years.  (See a few mobile applications listed at the bottom of this post).  

One of my favorite digital tools to work in conjunction with qualified healthcare professionals is the Living Matrix.  The template can be completed in partnership with a healthcare provider who uses this system.  It compiles a vivid snapshot of your health from both the lens of a historic view and the current state.  Concerning this tool, the medical office needs to provide you an invitation.  However, it’s one of the best tools to work in partnership with a healthcare provider on your specific health-related requirements.  Therefore, it might be worth asking about in your next visit.

If Do-it-yourself (DIY) is your preferred method, then mobile apps, spreadsheets, or notation oriented templates could be your best bet!  Options such as diary-style journals, booklets, or even, Word-style documents may prove helpful.  There are also many symptom journal options available on Etsy.  Medical providers may have templates to help with specific health conditions as well.

Incorporating color codes and reward systems may help to enhance the benefits of keeping a symptom journal.  Also, numeric systems to assess severity may be supportive.  

How to Create Your Own Symptom Journal

  1. Decide what you want to track, such as the components listed above.  (There may also be things specifically related to a health condition that you will want to include).
  2. Identify headers or prompts that will be useful for your records.
  3. Set up enough space to adequately capture what you wish to track and include other details, such as dates and times, a few extra notes, or maybe even photos.
  4. Determine a time-table to assess information logged, such as monthly.
  5. Start journaling.

Mobile & Digital Symptom Journals

*Just remember to go with a reliable application.  Also, review data protection and privacy policies. This would be to ensure that you are comfortable with the data-sharing aspects of the app.

Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

Try out using a symptom journal

References:

Basile, L.M.  (2020, May 21).  Why You Should Keep a Symptom Journal.  Remedy Health Media, EndocrineWeb.  Retrieved from https://www.endocrineweb.com/why-you-should-keep-symptom-journal.   

Dellwo, A.  (2019, Nov 15).  Track Your Symptoms of Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS.  About, Inc:  Verywell Health.  Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/tracking-your-symptoms-716187.

Dunleavy, B.P.  (2019, Nov 20).  How Keeping a Symptom Diary Can Help You Manage Inflammatory Back Pain.  Everyday Health.  Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/pain-management/how-keeping-a-symptom-diary-can-help-you-manage-inflammatory-back-pain/.

Experience Life staff  (2016, Mar 23).  The Digital Future of the Functional-Medicine Timeline and Matrix.  Life Time, Inc, Experience Life.  Retrieved from https://experiencelife.com/article/the-digital-future-of-the-functional-medicine-timeline-and-matrix/.

Hodge, B.  (2013, May-Jun).  The Use of Symptom Diaries in Outpatient Care.  Family Practice Management, 20(3), 24-28.  

Park, L.G., et al.  (2017, Nov).  Symptom Diary Use and Improved Survival for Patients with Heart Failure.  Circulation.  Heart Failure, 10(11), e003874.

UCSF Health (n.d.).  Using a Medical Calendar and Symptom Log.  The Regents of the University of California.  Retrieved from https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/using-a-medical-calendar-and-symptom-log.

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