If you or your child have ongoing health issues, just scheduling a doctor’s visit is stressful enough. Arriving and trying to explain everything is even harder. How can the appointment be a little less easier? Finding a way to organize and communicate your thoughts can help a lot. One of the best ways to keep track of symptoms and information is by writing it all down in one place.
Below is an instant download for a free printable symptom tracker, also called a symptom journal or symptom log. It’s an easy way to make quick notes about recurrent symptoms.
Who needs a symptom tracker?
Anyone with any health concerns at all should try to keep track of their symptoms. It makes visiting the doctor much more effective.
Those that may especially benefit from a symptom tracker include people with:
- chronic illness
- ongoing symptoms without a clear cause
- recurrent illness or concerns
- a doctor who asks you to keep track of your symptoms
If any of the above apply to you, please see your physician for whatever complaint you have. If your health care professional asks you to keep track, the form below may be one to use. Or, if the next doctor’s appointment is a few weeks away (and it’s not an emergency), this can help you gather information in the meantime.
Different illnesses and symptoms can be tracked.
Almost any health issue can (should) be logged. A few examples of complaints where a symptom tracker is invaluable include:
- chronic illness flares
- chronic pain
- joint pain or swelling
- rashes that come and go (like hives)
- menstrual cycles
- recurrent vomiting or diarrhea
- hard-to-describe symptoms (“something doesn’t feel right”)
- an illness with daily symptoms that fluctuate
How to use a symptom log or tracker
First, you don’t need the exact printable template included in this post. You can use a notebook. Or a mobile app. Some keep track in a bullet journal. Or, someone may want to journal symptoms in paragraph form. A paper calendar works for many too. The idea is to note:
- when the main symptoms happen
- how severe symptoms are (i.e. a pain level)
- other associated details (see below for some suggestions)
This specific symptom tracker can be used for a variety of illnesses or complaints and can be customized to your concerns. It includes a section where you can fill in the most relevant extra bits of information or details. These extra details allow you and your doctor (or child’s doctor), to see patterns and hopefully pave the way for some improvement.
Suggestions for associated details to track
If you’ve already seen a health care professional for your complaint, consider asking them if there are specifics you should track. Maybe they’ve seen someone with the same concern before. So, they may have ideas of common associated symptoms. (For example, I asked migraine sufferers to keep track of how many hours they slept the night before they had a migraine).
Some examples include:
- number of hours of sleep the night before
- last meal/food/drink
- what makes symptoms worse
- last menstrual period
- last bowel movement
- associated symptoms (like nausea, shortness of breath, etc)
- new symptoms
- activity when symptoms started
- any clear trigger for the symptoms
- medications taken
- general mood when symptoms started or during the episode
- how long episode lasted (especially relevant for pain symptoms)
Obviously, someone tracking knee pain is going to note different details than someone tracking diarrhea. Think about what you notice when you or your child has symptoms.
Specific instructions for this printable symptom tracker
If you’re using the tracker below, add the relevant details to the key at the top of the sheet.
Then in the left column, simply put down the date and the times of day symptoms take place.
Then you can fill out the rest as each episode arises. This form is fully customizable. If you need more columns, just print another sheet. Also consider writing notes on the back for any other details or concerns.
The final column includes a space to write what helped or alleviated the symptoms.
Why a paper printable tracker may be best
There are certainly apps and online tools for logging ongoing symptoms. Someone may prefer paper for these reasons:
- I am a pediatrician and love when kids and teens can take some ownership of their health. With paper, they can do exactly that. No smart phone or computer needed. Obviously young kids need their parents to keep track, but for an older child who needs to keep a headache or menstrual cycle diary, they can largely do this themselves.
- Similarly, there are plenty of people who have no interest in typing or searching through the app store to make a few quick notes about how they’re feeling. These same people may say that a paper hung on the fridge is perfectly fine, thank you very much. Sometimes the easiest way is also the simplest.
- When you want to share a symptom log with your or your child’s physician, there’s no need to depend on technology or compatible devices. You can bring in the tracker itself and the doctor can review it without having to navigate your smart phone (which we’re happy to do, but my goodness, it definitely doesn’t always work).
Download the (free) symptom tracker for your personal use here:
Take a step towards improving your or your family’s health by keeping track of your own symptoms. There are many options for logging symptoms. There’s not one that is right for everyone. However, if you’re not sure where to start, a piece of paper can be a good beginning.
Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.