Imitrex (sumatriptan) for migraines: an introduction

Imitrex for migraines, which launched in 1993, was the first drug in the triptan class to hit the market. It is a prescription drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for “the acute treatment of migraine attacks with or without aura in adults.”
Migraines affect millions of people, which has made Imitrex is one of the top-selling drugs in the world. In 2008, Imitrex global sales were $1.27 billion, down from $1.37 billion the year before. Because of Imitrex’s years on the market and high usage, more is known about Imitrex’s safety than the other drugs in the class. Also since it’s been on the market for several years, there are generic drugs available for the migraine drug Imitrex.
No other drug in the triptan class has a generic form available. The generic is sold under the drug’s chemical name sumatriptan.

How Imitrex for migraines works

Imitrex works by narrowing the blood vessels in the brainstem. It also reduces substances that can trigger migraine symptoms of head pain, nausea, sensitivity to light and sensitivity to sound, and other bothersome symptoms. Imitrex works best if it is taken as soon as migraine symptoms appear. It will only treat a headache that has started. It will not prevent a migraine attack or reduce the number of attacks you have.

Imitrex effectiveness

How well Imitrex works depends on the individual. Some people experience rapid pain relief, within an hour, or others it may take longer for the medicine to reduce their symptoms, while certain patients saw their migraine symptoms completely vanish with Imitrex. Based on studies of Imitrex, here’s a breakdown of the number of patients who say Imitrex’s highest dose of 100 mg tablets worked for them and how rapidly it relieved migraine symptoms:

  • Quick relief within an hour 20% to 35%
  • Relief within two hours 53% to 64%
  • Pain completely gone in two hours 18% to 33%
  • Pain completely gone two to 24 hours 20%

Forms of Imitrex available to treat migraines

Imitrex or the generic sumatriptan are available in several forms: tablets, nasal sprays, injections, pen injections and as a needless injection sold under the name Sumavel DosePro. Imitrex and its generic are the only triptans available as an injection. Sumavel DosePro, the needle-free injection form uses a burst of gas to get the drug under the skin. The medicine comes in a pre-filled, single-use unit that is pressed against the abdomen or thigh. Compressed nitrogen gas powers the internal mechanism to push the drug into the skin in a fraction of a second.

Imitrex and some other migraine treatments are available in different forms to offer options beyond tablets. Many people with chronic migraines also suffer from nausea and vomiting, making it difficult to swallow and keep down tablets long enough for the medications to work.

Available forms and price per dose

  • Imitrex tablet 25 mg , $39
  • Generic tablet 25 mg , $24
  • Imitrex tablet 50 mg , $37
  • Generic tablet 50 mg , $22
  • Imitrex tablet 100 mg , $37
  • Generic tablet 100 mg , $20
  • Imitrex nasal spray 5 mg , $62
  • Generic nasal spray 5 mg , $47
  • Imitrex nasal spray 20 mg , $61
  • Generic nasal spray 20 mg , $44
  • Imitrex injection 6 mg , $136
  • Generic injection 6 mg , $113
  • Imitrex pen injection 6 mg , $146
  • Generic pen injection 6 mg , $124
  • Sumavel needless injection 6 mg , $129

(Source for prices: Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs 2010)

Your doctor will help you determine if Imitrex is best for you and decide which dose to start you on. Writing down all information related to your migraine attacks in your migraine journal will help you and your doctor manage the condition. Also write down when you take medications and how well they work.

Most common Imitrex side effects

  • Tingling or burning sensations in the face, hands or feet
  • Prickling or itching skin
  • Feeling warm or cold
  • Tightness, pain, pressure or heaviness in the chest, neck, throat or jaw areas
  • Difficulty keeping your balance
  • Feeling weak, tired and/or drowsy, which might be related to halting the migraine attack
  • Burning feeling at the injection site is common when using the injectable form.

Serious side effects

Some people may experience serious side effects with Imitrex. Less than seven percent of people who take Imitrex or the generic form experience chest pain, tightness or pressure. If you experience this side effect, which can feel like it is spreading to the neck and jaw, seek medical attention immediately. There have also been very rare reports of temporary or permanent vision loss or blindness. Both the heart-related and sight-related side effects are thought to be because drugs in this class cause blood vessels to contract.

Who should not take Imitrex for migraines

Because Imitrex may raise blood pressure, people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure, hypertension, should not take this drug. Imitrex should not be taken by people who are also taking the powerful antidepressants monoamine oxidase-A inhibitors, MAO-A inhibitors or within two weeks of taking MAOIs. Imitrex should not be given to patients who suffer from hemiplegic migraine or basilar migraine. Imitrex isn’t recommended for elderly patients or people with severe liver impairment.



As always, the best source for advice on treating your migraines is your own migraine specialist. These medication descriptions are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication regimen without first checking with your physician. Again, this information should in no way substitute or be mistaken for medical advice.

Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
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