What’s available, how it works

Migraine is a neurological disease that affects millions of people every day. And for many people, it has a serious impact on quality of life.

Migraine is a complex condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, including severe and debilitating migraine attacks, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Today, there are several medication options available to prevent migraine attacks or treat migraine symptoms.

Triptans are a class or group of drugs that can treat migraine attacks after they start.

Triptans cannot prevent a migraine attack from occurring. Instead, these drugs help relieve symptoms by narrowing swollen blood vessels in the brain that develop from migraine attacks.

Let’s see what triptans are and how they work on migraine symptoms.

Triptans are prescription drugs. They are available in branded and generic options in various dosage forms.

They are also called serotonin receptor agonists. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced by nerve cells. It is found in different nerves throughout the body, including the brain.

Although the exact cause of migraine attacks is unclear, scientists believe that during a migraine attack, sensitive nerves become inflamed and blood vessels in the brain dilate. This causes pain and other symptoms.

Triptans work by compressing overactive nerves in the brain caused by a migraine attack. They also help reduce blood vessels to normal. This helps manage migraine symptoms.

A 2015 research review compared triptans and other migraine treatment options. Researchers found that standard doses of triptans were effective in relieving migraine attacks in 42 to 76 percent participants within 2 hours.

Triptans are available in several dosage forms. The dosage form your doctor prescribes may depend on your symptoms. For example, if you have nausea and vomiting with a migraine, your doctor may prescribe a nasal spray instead of swallowing pills.

Dosage forms include:

  • oral tablet that you swallow
  • fast dissolving oral tablet
  • nasal spray
  • injection

You may experience some side effects from triptan medications. For most people, the side effects go away after a few uses, but some people may experience more serious side effects.

Side effects can depend on different factors such as:

  • your age
  • any co-existing health conditions (if you have heart disease or high blood pressure, triptans may not be right for you)
  • other medicines you are taking

Common side effects include:

  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • feel like sleeping
  • burning or unpleasant taste (of nasal spray)
  • pain and redness (due to the injection)

Serious side effects

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience:

These are not all the side effects that triptans can cause. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information about the risks and side effects, and how to minimize them.

Triptans can interact with several other medications, supplements, or herbal products. Be sure to discuss all medications and over-the-counter products you take with your doctor and pharmacist.

Interactions are possible with:

These types of drugs and products may increase the side effects of triptan. Some of them are also used to treat migraine attacks.

There are several triptan medications available. The right one for you depends on factors such as how often you experience symptoms, types of symptoms, and whether you’ve ever tried a triptan that worked.

Options include:

  • almotriptan (Axert)
  • eletriptan (Relpax)
  • frovatriptan (Frova)
  • Naratriptan (Amerge)
  • rizatriptan (Maxalt)
  • sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • sumatriptan/naproxen sodium (Treximet)
  • zolmitriptan (Zomig)

A study 2019 compared the efficacy and dosage form of seven triptan drugs and found:

  • Among oral medications, eletriptan at a dose of 40 milligrams (mg) had the highest efficacy of all oral medications.
  • Naratriptan (2.5 mg) had the lowest efficacy among other oral triptans.
  • Subcutaneous injection (under the skin) was more effective than oral medications.
  • Nasal sprays were as effective as oral tablets.
  • Injection sumatriptan (6 mg) provided the fastest pain relief.

A research report 2017 comparing the risk of side effects of migraine treatments, almotriptan had the highest risk of vomiting associated with its use.

Triptan medications may not be suitable for everyone. If you have certain health conditions, discuss your medical history with your doctor so they can decide if triptans are right for you.

Conditions that may increase risk with triptans include:

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about triptan medications and their safety.

The exact drug, dosage, and form (ie tablet, nasal spray, or injection) will depend on the drug and your symptoms, age, and other factors like body weight.

Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of medications and which medications and dosage will work best for your symptoms.

Do not take more doses of your medication than prescribed. Keep in mind that using these medications too frequently can cause medication overuse headaches, also known as rebound headaches.

There are several options for preventing migraine attacks and treating acute symptoms. Preventer medications are taken regularly to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

Some options for migraine prevention include:

Here are some examples of alternative migraine treatments:

Triptans have been around for many years and are used for the treatment of acute migraine, but they are not suitable for everyone. Your doctor can explain the benefits and risks of triptans and whether these drugs are the right option for you.

Consider these tips to help you monitor and manage your migraine symptoms:

  • Avoid migraine triggers as much as possible. Stress, anxiety and certain foods are common triggers.
  • Keep a migraine diary to track attacks. Over time, you may see a pattern that can help inform your treatment.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Don’t skip meals.
  • Have a good sleep routine.
  • Exercise more often than not.
  • Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine.

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