What is a symptom journal and why do people with chronic illness keep one? It was a question that I had when my doctor first mentioned it to me. I later encountered the idea of keeping a symptom journal in online forums. I want to share with you a few reasons why I keep a symptom journal to help me manage my chronic illnesses.
1. Keeping a symptom journal is an easy and simple process.
There’s probably several examples of symptom journals on the web, but I like to keep mine simple and easy to read. A small spiral-bound notebook works well for keeping all of my symptoms organized. I like to write down the date, time, any symptoms I’m experiencing, how I’m generally feeling, my blood pressure (BP) and pulse, because I do have heart issues which require monitoring. However, I have seen symptom journals that included a lot less and much more.
I keep the journal right next to my bed, which makes it easy to find. Recording my symptoms and other criteria takes, at the very most, maybe five to ten minutes of my time. Even on painful and tiresome days, writing down how I’m feeling is an activity that I can easily do.
2. If my health declines, I have an accurate record of how I was feeling before any changes.
I am symptomatic almost each and every day, but the severity of my symptoms can change very quickly. While it’s common for me to experience the joint pain and fatigue that I’ve come to associate with my illness, I have experienced more severe symptoms that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Keeping an accurate record of my symptoms has allowed my doctors (and me) to have a clearer picture of how I was feeling prior to any changes.
3. I can bring it with me to doctor’s appointments to relay important information about how I was/am feeling.
Another reason why I keep a symptom journal is because I only get to see my doctor maybe three or four times a year. Keeping a journal of symptoms allows me to be able to communicate more accurately with my doctor about how I’ve been feeling since my last appointment.
4. My doctor can monitor any potentially dangerous side effects of my medications.
While I’ve never had a severe side effect from my medications (knock on wood) I do know that it is a possibility for me. Slightly annoying but seemingly minor symptoms may not sound an alarm for me, but letting my doctor know about any and all side effects that I’ve been having allows her to decide if it’s safe for me to continue taking a medication or not. Because brain fog often interferes with my ability to remember every side effect I’ve had since starting a new medication, keeping a symptom journal means that I don’t have to.
5. It can be therapeutic.
On really bad days, I tend to isolate myself. I’m typically a very stoic person and do not like to attract attention, especially when I’m in pain or feeling physically weak. While this does allow me to stay within my own little world on days when interacting with others seems impossible, it can also be overwhelming at times. I have moments where I want to communicate how I’m feeling, but I don’t necessarily want to hear the feedback that comes with human interaction – i.e. I don’t want someone else to feel bad for me, or for them to try to “fix” whatever it is that I’m feeling.
The best way for me to express myself on days like this, is to write it down in my symptom journal. While I don’t necessarily ‘vent’ in the traditional sense (I save that for my personal journal) I do make a list of the things that are bothering me. It allows me to talk about how I’m feeling without worrying about what kind of response I’m going to get.
Do you keep a symptom journal? What do you like to include yours? How do you feel it helps you (or not)? Feel free to drop me a comment!