Triptans are a class of medication used for the treatment of moderate to severe migraine headaches or cluster headaches after the headache begins. Triptans are one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for migraine headaches.
By stopping the migraine headache, triptans help alleviate the other symptoms that occur during a migraine, such as pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Triptans work by increasing levels serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the brain. Increasing the serotonin levels leads to reduced inflammation and improved blood flow. They are also called "selective serotonin receptor agonists".
Triptans are most effective when taken early in a migraine attack while the pain is still mild.
There are a variety of triptans available by prescription only as tablets, nasal sprays and injections. These include:
- Almotriptan (Axert®)
- Eletriptan (Relpax®)
- Frovatriptan (Frova®)
- Naratriptan (Amerge®)
- Rizatriptan (Maxalt®)
- Sumatriptan (Imitrex®)
- Sumatriptan and naproxen (Treximet®)
- Zolmitriptan (Zomig®)
Taking any headache medication more frequently than prescribed can lead to medication overuse headache (previously called rebound headache), in which the initial headache is relieved temporarily but reappears as the drug wears off. Taking more of the drug to treat the new headache leads to progressively shorter periods of pain relief and results in a pattern of recurrent chronic headache.
Some people with frequent and severe migraine may also benefit from using a preventive medication. Some triptans may be used to prevent some cases of migraines, such menstural migraines suffered by women around the time of their menstrual period.
Triptans are effective in reducing migraine symptoms and are generally well tolerated. However, those with migraines should discuss the following with their doctor before taking triptans:
- Triptans should not be used in combination with ergotamines for the treatment of migraine, and in some instances, should not be used in combination with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
- Triptans should not be used by those who have a past history of, or risk factors, for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, peripheral vascular disease, impaired liver function, stroke or diabetes.
Take your headache medication exactly as directed.
Reference: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)