Oh, you are lucky today! Both a video AND text – choose whichever you like!
I first heard about the concept of symptom diaries about six years ago. I had moved and was looking for a new GP. A friend had recommended the clinic I am still with: I was calling to make my first appointment. As is often the case, I was placed on hold and while listening to the recorded information I heard: “Bring your symptom diary.”
To me, at that point in my journey, the concept of a symptom diary smacked of hypochondria and that horrified me. However, we live and learn and I now recognise the value of a symptom diary and I keep one.
A symptom diary allows you to provide your doctors with accurate information about your condition/(s).
- What happened
- When things happened
- Quantification of improvements or otherwise
- Pattern analysis
- Trend analysis
Let’s look at examples of each of the above.
What Happened: Many chronic illness patients, myself included, experience a degree of cognitive impairment (otherwise referred to as “brain fog”). This means we forget things. If we forget things we don’t tell our doctors and they are then operating on limited information. We don’t see our doctors regularly – it can be months between visits!
When Things Happened: We may remember what happened but forget when – and when can be important especially if the patient is changing medications or has (as many of us do) multiple conditions. One specialist may change a treatment that may impact a different condition. I remember back in 2014 my rheumatologist wouldn’t start me on arthritis treatment until we had progressed some way along the path of controlling my thyroid. There are often relationships between conditions.
Quantification: I can say to my doctor “I’m losing strength”. While somewhat useful, it is much more useful if I can quantify the loss. If I can say to my doctor I was doing 140 kgs on the leg press but two weeks ago I had to drop 10 kgs and again this week another 10 kgs. Or walking: if I have recorded a drop from being able to easily walk 2 kms in one session but am now struggling to walk 1 km in a session, that quantifies the change over time.
Pattern Analysis: We may find something happens on a regular basis IF we are recording it. Let’s say we find we are really stiff and sore every Thursday morning. If we know it is every Thursday, then we can look at what are we doing on Wednesdays or Tuesdays that may be triggering a flare on Thursdays. Without recording it, we may not even realise it is every Thursday.
Trend Analysis: Recording allows us to see if we are progressing, stable or our condition is worsening. It may give us early warning. On the basis a stitch in time saves nine, catching something early can be a good thing.
Even if your doctor never looks at your symptom diary, it provides you with the ability to provide good information to your doctor. I have hard copy diaries, yes, I write in them in old fashioned cursive! Yes, I swear. I also use the Notes app on my phone for some things. Find what works for you.
As I have said before, we are the foot soldiers in our health war. Our doctors are the commanders back in HQ, they don’t see what happens to us each and every day, they are depending on us to submit a comprehensive field report!