Triptans for migraine: What to know
Triptans are a class of drugs known as serotonin receptor agonists and are used to treat migraine.
Triptans, considered an abortive migraine medication, can relieve the symptoms of migraine after it starts. Triptans relieve migraine symptoms by constricting the brain blood vessels that swell when you have a migraine attack.
Let’s look at the different types of triptans, their side effects, and alternatives to treating and managing migraine.
List of triptans for migraine
A 2015 review of 133 trials found that 42–76% of participants who used triptans experienced relief from migraine within two hours. On the other hand, a 2020 study indicated that triptans are not as effective in relieving migraine symptoms in 30–40% of people.
Triptans are prescription medications, which means you can’t buy them over the counter (OTC). You can take triptans as an oral tablet, nasal spray, or injection. They are available in generic form or as brand-name drugs.
Some of the most common triptans are:
Almotriptan can relieve migraine symptoms, including throbbing headaches, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Almotriptan is an oral tablet that you take at the first sign of a migraine attack. Doctors prescribe almotriptan for people ages 12–17 years and adults.
Doctors prescribe frovatriptan to treat acute cases of migraine. They may prescribe Frova for off-label use to address menstrual migraine headaches. Frovatriptan comes in oral tablet form.
Sumatriptan (Imitrex) can help treat migraine with or without aura. Imitrex is also used to treat cluster headaches. The medication comes in oral tablet form or as an injection, nasal solution, and nasal powder.
Sumatriptan/naproxen sodium (Treximet)
Zolmitriptan (Zomig) helps relieve the symptoms of a migraine with or without aura. It is available in tablet form or as a nasal spray for children ages 12 years and older.
Is there a ‘best’ triptan for migraine?
Among all oral triptan medications, eletriptan (Realpax) at a 40-milligram (mg) dose has the highest effectiveness, according to a 2019 review.
The same study suggests that triptan injections are more effective than oral tablets and that injectable sumatriptan relieves pain the fastest.
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Triptans can cause common side effects, such as:
- nausea and vomiting
- coronary vasoconstriction
- burning or unpleasant taste from the nasal spray
- pain and redness from the injection
- neck pain
Some serious side effects of triptans include heart issues, such as arrhythmias and stroke, severe stomach pain, and allergic reaction. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 or your nearest emergency service.
Other migraine treatments and drugs
Triptans are drugs that are used to relieve migraine symptoms as soon as they appear. But triptans can’t prevent a migraine attack.
Other treatment options for migraine can help prevent or treat the symptoms of a migraine when they appear.
To prevent migraine, you can try these options:
- Anticonvulsants: Some anticonvulsants are effective at preventing migraine. Some options include topiramate (Topamax) and valproic acid (Valproate).
- Antidepressants: Some antidepressants can help prevent migraine, such as nortriptyline (Pamelor) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR).
- CGRP antagonists: Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonists, such as erenumab (Aimovig) and fremanezumab (Ajovy).
- Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers can help prevent migraine by restricting blood flow to the brain, reducing the electrical activity in the nervous system, and maintaining a consistent level of serotonin. Some beta-blockers include propranolol (Inderal La), atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor), and timolol (Timoptic).
To relieve symptoms of migraine after they appear, you can try alternative options to triptans like:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- aspirin (Excedrin)
- anti-nausea medications like meclizine (Antivert) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine, Gravol)
- botulinum toxin type A (Botox)
- lasmitidan (Reyvow)
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen
- ubrogepant (Ubrelvy)
Migraine affects about 1 billion people around the world, and the condition can impact a person’s quality of life.
Triptans are one type of drug used to relieve migraine symptoms once the first sign appears.
Commonly used triptans include sumatriptan, eletriptan, and rizatriptan. Triptans are prescription medications, and you should take them exactly as your doctor indicates. Triptans come in the form of oral tablets, nasal sprays, and injections.
Triptans can cause side effects like dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you experience any of these adverse effects.
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- Amiri P, et al. (2021). Migraine: A review on its history, global epidemiology, risk factors, and comorbidities. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8904749/
- Cameron C, et al. (2015). Triptans in the acute treatment of migraine: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26178694/
- Dihydroergotamine injection. (2022). https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a603022.html
- Fioricet® with Codeine C-III. (2011). accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2011/020232s033lbl.pdf
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