Triptans medications for migraines: an introduction

Triptans, which have been available on the market since the 1990s, are a relatively effective prescription class of drugs for treating migraines. About three out of five people who take a medication in this class have their pain relieved within two hours. The best results occur when triptans are taken as soon as the first hint of the attack surfaces – as early in the migraine attack as possible. Triptans help relieve migraine pain as well as alleviate other migraine symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Triptans do not prevent migraines. Some studies show that 50 percent to 60 percent of patients who take triptans consistently respond and have relief of their migraine symptoms. Many migraine sufferers say triptans provide partial relief.

How triptans work

It is believed that triptans halt migraine discomfort by relieving swelling and narrowing blood vessels. The drugs work in several other ways to relieve migraine symptoms, although it is unknown exactly how they work to help stop a migraine attack.

Different forms /formulations of triptans

Sometimes medicines taken by mouth aren’t effective for migraine sufferers because of the symptoms of nausea and vomiting, which can make it difficult to swallow and digest medications. Because of this many of the triptans come in several forms:

  • Regular tablets
  • Dissolving tablets
  • Injections
  • Needleless injections
  • Rectal suppositories
  • Nasal sprays
  • Patch System

This class of drugs is chemically known as 5-hydroxytrytamine receptor agonists and are also called serotonin 5-HT 1B/1D-receptor agonists. Because triptans are agonists, that means drugs in this class target and stimulate the receptors of the hormone serotonin.

Side effects of triptans

People taking triptans complain of tingling, reddening of the face and feelings of pressure. Triptans can also constrict the arteries of the heart. Some people taking triptans can develop a reaction called serotonin syndrome. This occurs more often if patients are also taking certain antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or SNRIs (Serotonin—norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor). Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any symptoms of serotonin syndrome which include confusion, hallucinations, fast heart beat, feeling faint, fever, sweating, muscle spasms, trouble walking and diarrhea.

Who should not take triptans

Triptans – except for naratriptan, sold under the brand name Amerge – should not be taken by people who are also taking the powerful antidepressants monoamine oxidase inhibitors, MAOIs. Many triptans are contraindicated for patients with hemiplegic migraine or basilar migraine, and have not been studied in patients with these migraine types. Also, triptans should be avoided by those with heart disease or other heart disease risk factors such as family history of early heart disease or stroke, uncontrolled high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. These drugs shouldn’t be taken by people with cerebrovascular disease or patients who are significantly overweight or patients who smoke.

Different triptan medications for migraines

There are eight triptans available by prescription. Click on the links below to get specific information on each specific drug.

  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)
  10. Zecuity (sumatriptan iontophoretic transdermal system)
Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
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