Daily Data, Your New Best Friend: Interpret

by AHB on April 29

in basics

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As a child I took piano lessons. My very first teacher was a lovely soft woman. She had soft brown hair that fell in soft waves. Pale blue kind eyes and a soft sweet voice. She would sit next to me on the piano bench gently curving my fingers, straightening my back, and correctly placing my elbows. Then I had to actually play a note. When I played a note my fingers flattened out, I stuck my head forward, curving my back, and my elbows splayed out. She reminded me to sit back up, and curve my fingers, and tuck in my elbows.  I would do so and again play a note and again my fingers flattened, my back curved and my elbows splayed. And so it went every week at our lessons for months on end. Very gradually though I could keep my fingers curved, I could keep my back straight, I could tuck in my elbows. Eventually I could even do all of these things and play the notes with varying dynamics. I still remember very clearly the day I managed to play my short song quietly with my body in the correct position. I remember the warm smile my teacher gave me.

Interpreting data, of any kind, is a lot like learning to play an instrument. At first it seems like a lost cause but gradually, over time, our ability increases until one day we are no longer beginners. For someone who is chronically ill few pieces of information are more important than knowing what makes you feel better or worse. Sadly, for those with a dysautonomia disease the variables are so numerous and nuanced that it can seem impossible to determine health giving or taking factors with certainty. It can be done though. If you’re not sure how or why to keep data read the previous posts in this series.

So, now you’ve kept data and it needs interpreting. Many people will start with two measurements. The first answers the question: how sick am I? The second relates to a treatment regimen. For example, I first kept track of (1) when I fainted and (2) when I took my medication. If you record these measurements in some sort of calendar form you’ll have a third variable, time, to look at.

To interpret data begin with asking a question, such as, “Are the results as expected?” or “Did fainting increase on the days I did not take my medication?”

When you have an answer turn it into a hypothesis to apply to another set of your data, as in, “My fainting increases during the winter months”. To check this hypothesis I would need data from winter months and non-winter months. The hypothesis then either holds up or it doesn’t.

If you are unable to answer a question and form a hypothesis start looking for any patterns.  These will lead you to a question. As in, “Why was there an increase of fainting during the last month?” or “What is causing these random two day long bad spells?”

And, then you just have to keep plugging away at trying to understand your data. Just like learning an instrument it will incrementally increase until one day you can look at your data and know exactly what it means.

Now for an example I’ve gathered actual data of mine. As I said before, three months is the minimum length to note significant patterns. Here I’ve gathered three months of my life. (Fair Warning: my female cycle is going to be discussed. That’s just how it is. I’m female.) In yellow are # of syncopal episodes as defined as fainting (for any length of time) or feeling faint enough that it required me to rest. In red are medical notes: doctor appointments and menstruation. Orange is other significant events. Lastly in green are the health increasing factors I measured: meditation (of any kind) and taking Ayurvedic herbs with # of dosages. (Click the images to see them larger.)

October 20–



November 20–


December 20–


Now it’s time to look for patterns and ask questions.

First thing I notice is that in October the fainting increased towards the end of my cycle. So, does that apply to November or December? In November no. In December yes. Could be a correlation, but I’ll have to look at more months. It does lead to a new question: did anything happen in November to prevent my cycle affecting my health? Not that I can see. *sigh* However, it is interesting to note that my cycle occurred about the time the moon reaches the first quarter.

What about my two health-increasing factors: meditation and Ayurvedic herbs?

Did the meditation help? I can’t tell because I meditated fewer than 1/4 of the days in any given month.

Did the Ayurvedic herbs (i.e. medication) help? I began taking the herbs on November 24th and took them daily until December 5th. During those two weeks my fainting definitely decreased. Then I was taking the herbs intermittently and they helped a lot less.

Any thing else noteworthy? Well, I can see that fainting incidents of 1 or 2 times a day is common. The high occurs in December two days with 6 incidences and over each month there are a couple incidents of 4 times a day.

Okay, so recap:

  • Meditation – not enough data.
  • Menstruation – possible correlation. Relates to the first quarter moon phase.
  • Ayurvedic herbs – helpful, most helpful when taken daily.
  • # of Incidents – 1-2 is common. 4-6 is high.

Let’s add one more month now to see how it helps the data I already have.

January 20–


 Apply my new hypotheses:

  • Meditation is helpful. Still not enough data. Clearly I’m not committed to this as a daily practice. Or even an every other day practice.
  • Menstruation increases incidents of fainting. It appears again to have a correlation. That makes three months of correlation (October, December, January). Also, it moved a few days later in the moon phase.
  • Ayurvedic herbs decrease incidents of fainting. Definitely helps. Still most helpful when taken daily.
  • #1-2 incidents a day is common. Still true.

Do I notice anything new? Well, so the high this month is #7 incidents on the 20th. That’s higher than the previous months’ high. I wonder what the high is in each of these months.

  • October. 5 days with #3. 2 days with #4.
  • November. 1 day with #3. 2 days with #4.
  • December. 2 days with #4. 2 days with #6.
  • January. 3 days with #3.  1 day with #7.

Doesn’t seem to be anything noteworthy there. December might be worse than the other two months. It’s hard to tell because I started taking the new medication (i.e. Ayurvedic herbs) near the end of November into December, And again for nearly a week in January. It’ll take a few years to get the data for those months to compare.

So, now that I’ve interpreted my data it can help me to make decisions, the subject of the next post.

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