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How do triptans help migraines?

Dr Marcus explains how the triptan class of medications can help treat migraines.

Video Transcript

How do triptans help migraines?

Triptans are a class of medication that specifically target the mechanism of migraine. During a migraine episode, blood vessels dilate around the brain. You may notice that the blood vessels in your temple become more prominent and tender to touch during a migraine. You are likely to feel a pulsing sensation as if the blood vessels become more sensitive to this increase blood flow. During this process a brain chemical called serotonin becomes more active. This results in triggering additional pain center in the brain, causing pain over your head and face.

Triptans work by directly targeting these receptors, the expanded blood vessels, and serotonin activity. Within about 30 to 60 minutes of taking your triptan your brain sensitivity to pain will decrease and you will probably begin to notice a decrease in migraine symptoms including pain, sensitivity to noise, light and nausea.

So remember triptans offer more than simply pain relief. Triptans specifically and directly target the mechanism of migraine resulting in more complete relief of all your migraine symptoms than just a simple pain reliever.

It is important to remember that not every medication will work for everyone. Please be sure to discuss treatment options, including potential side effects, with your physician.


If you are interested to learn more about the triptan class of medications, including formulations, side effects, and important safety information, read the triptans overview.

You can also find detailed information on individual brands of triptans by following the links below. Each page provides results from clinical studies, including efficacy and most common side effects.

  1. Imitrex (Sumatriptan)
  2. Zomig (Zolmitriptan)
  3. Maxalt (Rizatriptan)
  4. Relpax (Eletriptan)
  5. Treximet (Sumatriptan and Naproxen Sodium Tablets)
  6. Amerge (Naratriptan)
  7. Frova (Frovatriptan)
  8. Axert (Almotriptan)
  9. Sumavel DosePro (sumatriptan)

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Tara Lane
    8 years ago

    I have used Frova, Relpax, Sumatriptan, Maxalt, Imitrex, and Zomig. Frova worked once and then never again. The first time I used Maxalt, it took 12 hours to have any effect at all, and by then I had taken something else. Both Imitrex and Sumatriptan worked well the first time, the second time I needed 2 doses, and I felt my chest tightening like I was having a heart attack and it did nothing for the migraine. Zomig I had good luck with for about 3 months, but then it too stopped working and I started getting MOH. So I only have Axert and Amerge left and I will have exhausted this class of drugs.

    Zomig was great while it lasted because it took the migraine away in 15 min., and although I needed to rest for the day, I was out of pain and that was the main thing. It was the best, fastest working drug I ever had. Then it wasn’t. And so it goes.

    It was pricey though. $126 for 3 doses, and I had to use that with 2 other drugs so I did not use it too much because I get about 4 -5 migraines a week.

  • Lisa Kaelin
    8 years ago

    I am like Tammy I can only get 9 a month so I have to decide whether to take a maxalt or not since I often get migraines daily and there is no way I can use triptans as often as I get migraines I am on topamax but it does not help much and I have tried many other meds as well.

  • Teri Robert
    8 years ago

    Julie Wycoff Monk 5-HTP can be a wonderful supplement, but it (like other supplements) shouldn’t be taken without consulting our doctors FIRST. 5-HTP can present some specific problems for those of us with Migraineurs. It should NOT be taken if we’re taking triptans, antidepressants, or some other medications. Additionally, there are some medical conditions that people may have that would mean that 5-HTP would be contraindicated for them. Please keep in mind that even “natural” treatments are drugs. They were mankind’s first drugs and we all need to treat them with the same caution and respect that we treat prescription medications. Please see

  • Julie Wycoff Monk
    8 years ago

    hey lisa, i don’t get migraines, but i take 5 HTP every night, probably for a year now. it’s a tryptophan which is used by your body to make serotonin and melatonin. i think of it like this: you have to have enough flour to make bread. the 5HTP provides the “flour” for your brain to make chemicals it needs. the closeness of the words made me wonder, so i googled and found lots of connections to it as a migraine prevention. the 5 HTP is very safe to take – anyway, just thought i’d pass it on. it’s worked wonders for me as a mood lifter and sleep aid.,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=1fb9386827ca6b22&biw=1024&bih=475

  • Lisa Kaelin
    8 years ago

    thanks Tangela and hope you two are having a super trip:))

  • Patrick N Tangela
    8 years ago

    Try and going to get a massage once a week it has helped Bri my daughter who lives with them due to her brain surgry..

  • Tammy Howard
    8 years ago

    I use Relpax and that seems to work within the hour. I can only get 9 a month through our insurance. It gets pretty scarey trying to decide if this one is bad enough to take one of my pills. I was having one every other day for about 3 1/2 weeks. I’ve finally had about 5 days in a row relief. Wish they would completely go away.

  • Barbetta Reedy
    8 years ago

    I am on generic imitrex they don’t work like the brand name it takes at least 3/4 away then have to take another shot if it comes back only imitrex took the migraine all away but when you can only get the generic that is what you have to deal with.

  • Pen Ort
    8 years ago

    I am on Frova, and they never work in less than 2 hours. I find that is the same for most people. When they do finally work, they take away about 50% of the pain. And that lasts until I go to sleep again. Then I wake with another one…

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    Have you tried the other Triptans? Worth trying each and every one of them over time to see if you respond quicker and with more relief.

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