Can This App Predict Your Headache?
Like 36 million other Americans, I get migraines—throbbing headaches that often include strange sensory symptoms and sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Migraineurs (as sufferers are called) often spend enormous amounts of time and effort trying to figure out the “triggers” for their headaches. Common triggers include lack of sleep, caffeine (too little or too much), alcohol, aged meats and cheeses, and sudden weather changes.
Over the years, I’ve worked out that my triggers include dehydration, long plane flights, skipping my morning coffee and eating too much dairy. But despite doing my best to stay hydrated and caffeinated and to moderate my ice cream consumption, migraines pop up unexpectedly multiple times a month.
So I was personally curious to read about a new app called Migraine Buddy, which claims to predict migraines with 90 percent accuracy. The free app, created by Singaporean health data company Healint, uses a combination of active and passive data to understand individual migraine patterns.
For the active data portion of the app, users record each migraine they have, answering questions about pain intensity, where they are in their menstrual cycle (if they’re women, obviously), and where they were when the pain started (work, home, school, etc). It asks the users to guess the trigger for this particular headache. Preset triggers include anxiety, stress, physical exertion, processed food and lack of sleep, or users are allowed to add their own. It then asks whether the user had any physical or mental symptoms before the pain started—common pre-migraine “aura” symptoms include fatigue, weakness, visual disturbances and tingling in the head or neck.
None of this is dramatically different than other migraine recording apps. iHeadache, for instance, is an electronic headache log that tracks a user’s triggers. What’s unique about Migraine Buddy is the passive data portion—that is, the part that requires no user input. The app learns when you sleep based on your phone use habits and creates an automatic sleep diary. Using the phone’s location systems, it files away information about the weather in your current locale. Changes in temperature and barometric pressure are triggers for many people.
This phone-generated data is important, as people’s own recall of these things is highly imperfect, says Veronica Chew, co-founder of Healint. “For example, if I would ask you how did you sleep last week, how would you answer that?” Chew asks.
Good question. I can barely remember how I slept last night.
Migraine Buddy, which was built based on input from neurologists and neuroscientists, could be useful to migraineurs in a variety of ways, Chew says. It could help them identify triggers. It could help them see how well their medications are working. It could be useful to show to doctors, so they can understand the extent of their patients’ problems. Eventually, once the app has been fed enough data, it can tell users when they might expect to get another migraine.