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Triptans are a class of medications that are selective serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)(1B/1D) receptor agonists. Triptans are primarily used in the acute treatment of moderate to severe migraine. Triptans, which first came to market in the early 1990s, come in different formulations, both brand and generic.1 These include oral medications such as tablets, capsules and quick dissolving tablets, subcutaneous injections, nasal sprays, and transdermal patch.

How do triptans work?

Triptans work by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain to diminish the swelling of blood vessels. Triptan medications can be single formulations or compounded with other agents like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They are fast acting, generally reducing head pain in about 2 hours. Triptans also help to relieve other symptoms associated with migraine. They do not prevent migraine attacks.


Dosage information

Triptans are considered a first-line therapy for migraine. Your doctor will determine which is the best medication and dosage for you by evaluating personal tolerance preference, comorbidities (other medical conditions), and other risk factors.2 Triptans should be taken at the first signs of migraine onset.

What are the brand names of triptans?

Triptans, like many drugs are available as and are referred to by both generic and brand names.

Brands (generics):2,3,4

What are the possible side effects of triptans?

There are people who have migraine who may not be good candidates for triptan use. A health screening should be performed for people with or at risk for vascular disease. If you are a man over 40 or a woman over 55, have a history of cardiac conditions or coronary artery disease risk factors such as high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or smoke tobacco, you should be evaluated by your physician before taking triptans.2 This class of medications can narrow blood vessels, which may cause or exacerbate cardiac disruptions and other vascular side effects.

Every prescription comes with prescribing information that can help you be aware of side effects that should be discussed with your physician. Depending on the formulation of triptan used, some of the most common side effects include dizziness, altered taste, and injection site reactions. Take your medications as prescribed. Some people find it beneficial to keep a migraine diary so they can track the onset and resolution of migraine attacks, specific symptoms, timing, and triggers of migraine. This information can help you work with your physician on migraine management.

Triptans paving the way for migraine treatment

Understanding the mechanism of action of triptans has helped scientists understand the pathophysiology (associated physiological processes) and pharmacotherapy (drug treatment) of migraine.1 Their effectiveness has led them to be a first-line therapy for the treatment of acute migraine. As generics have become available, the price of triptans has gone down, making them more accessible.

Migraine disease affects nearly 12% of Americans5 and people across the globe. They include a wide range of recurring symptoms that can be debilitating. Triptans are one class of drugs with different methods of administration that are widely available. There are other kinds of medications available designed to prevent or treat migraine for those who are not good candidates for triptans.

Written by: Linda Saxl Minton | Last reviewed: August 2019
  1. Reddy, D.S. The Pathophysiological and Pharmacological Basis of Current Drug Treatment of Migraine Headache. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2013;6(3):271-288. Accessed online May 29, 2018.
  2. Treating migraine headaches with Triptans. Comparing effectiveness, safety, and price of these medications. Published: March 2013. Accessed online May 30, 2018.
  3. Medications for Migraine. website. Accessed online May 28, 2018.
  4. Antimigraine agents. Accessed online May 30, 2018.
  5. LeClair,JN, Ostroff, JL, Ostroff, ML. An Overview of Generic Triptans for Migraine. Published June 16, 2017. Accessed online May 30, 2018.