Tracking Your Symptoms
It's difficult to diagnose, treat or live with fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS). The symptoms are many and they can fluctuate like crazy -- one day you feel pretty good, the next you can barely walk, the next you're OK physically but just can't concentrate or communicate effectively. How can you and your doctor figure out what is going on with you?
A symptom diary can be a big help. By keeping daily track of how you felt and what you did, you may be able to find patterns or identify triggers. Maybe you're most tired the day after you go to the grocery store, or perhaps your flare-ups regularly start 14 days into your menstrual cycle. A diary can help you and your doctor spot these kinds of thing when you might otherwise miss them.
A diary also can help your doctor determine which symptoms are bothering you most often. If you typically see your doctor toward the end of the day, pain may be more prevalent in your mind because you're achy then, whereas a diary might show you're exhausted every day, but only bothered by pain 3 or 4 days a week. Knowing what symptoms you experience most, and to what degree, can greatly help shape your diagnosis and treatment, as well as help you make decisions about life-style changes and plan around things that are predictable.
First, it's important for you to be familiar with the broad range of symptoms that can be linked to FMS and ME/CFS.
Keeping a Symptom Diary
The most important thing to keep in mind when starting a diary is to keep it simple. If it takes only a few minutes to fill out, you're more likely to stick to it when you're feeling your worst (which can be the most important time to do it.) Also, while several forms are available, you should tailor the records to your own situation and keep the information relevant to you.
Experts have come up with different types of diaries or logs and a lot of templates are available online. You may want to experiment to see which method or combination of methods works best for you.
- Symptom log:
One or more times a day, make a list of symptoms you're experiencing and rate their severity. This type of diary can help quantify your level of symptoms, identify which symptoms impact you most, pinpoint interactions between symptoms and document day-to-day changes. This sample symptom log can help you get started.
- Activity log:
By keeping an activity log, you can link what you do with how you feel. It can help to track things such as how much and how well you sleep, exercise levels, running errands, housework and socializing. You might also benefit from tracking your emotions and stress levels. This sample activity log shows you one way to to it.
- Envelope log:
An envelope log can help you see how well you're staying within your limits, which is necessary for managing FMS or ME/CFS. Using a scale of 1 to 10, you rate your energy level, activity level and symptom level. If your symptoms are different at different times of day, it might help to fill it out 2 or 3 times daily. Here's a printable sample envelope log.
Keeping a Journal
Some experts say keeping a more traditional journal -- about your life and for personal rather than medical use -- can be a big help relieving stress and managing the emotional components of living with a chronic illness. You may even want to share your journal with people in your life to help them gain a better perspective on what it is you're going through.
2002-2007 Hearthstone Communications Ltd. All rights reserved. "Maintaining a Good Relationship with Your Health Care Provider" and "Keeping a Journal"
2006 Bruce Campbell, CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Self-Help. "Ten Keys to Successful Coping"