10 Triptan Facts You Need to Know Now

Triptans are abortive drugs commonly prescribed for migraine.  Common triptans include eletriptan (Relpax), frovatriptan (Frova, Migard) and sumatriptan (Imitrex, Imigran).

10 Triptan Facts

Should you take them?  What facts will help you find the best one?  Here are 10 facts you need to know to make an informed decision.

  1. Triptans are not “pain killers”:  Triptan medications are used to simply stop pain, although they can do that too.  Their use is much more complex, targeting various symptoms of migraine, such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
  2. Triptans are not all the same:  When one triptan doesn’t work for you, it’s likely that another will.  Some work faster than others.  Some may cause side effects, when others will not.  Some interact with certain drugs, some work better for certain types of migraine.
  3. Don’t just rely on triptans:  Triptans are better used as a part of a full treatment plan.  Talk with your doctor and other health professionals about lifestyle and other treatments.  Your doctor may recommend taking something else with a triptan, such as an NSAID (ie ibuprofen).
  4. Triptans and heart conditions:  Because of the way triptans act on blood vessels, there have been concerns about taking triptans if you are at higher than normal risk for heart conditions.  Although some researchers have had concerns about triptans causing heart problems, other studies have questioned this.  You’ll need to evaluate the risks with your doctor, particularly if you have high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, or a risk of stroke or heart attack.  Other risk factors include smoking and diabetes.
  5. Triptans will likely help:  Triptans do not help everyone, and you may need to try different triptans and different ways of taking them before you find the one that works.  In 2004, a panel of headache experts suggested that triptans would probably help 4 out of 5 patients.  Again, triptans should be used as a part of a full treatment plan.
  6. Triptan side effects:  Generally, triptans don’t cause significant side effects.  You may be concerned if you’re feeling pain or pressure in the chest, jaw, or other parts of your body.  This probably is nothing to worry about and is not related to heart problems.  However, you should tell your doctor right away so she can check it out.
  7. Triptans and other drugs:  Be sure to stick to the prescribed dosage and tell your doctor about any other medications you may be taking.  There is particular danger with certain antidepressants, which when taken with a triptan may cause serotonin syndrome.  Also dangerous can be ergot based drugs, drugs for fungal infections, and some others.
  8. Triptans long term:  All patients should be cautious if they’re taking triptans over a long period of time more than twice a month.  As mentioned above, there are concerns about heart conditions.  You should see a specialist regularly if you’re taking triptans regularly, and also have your eyes checked on a regular basis.
  9. Brand names vs generic:  You can take either a brand name or generic triptan, but remember one may help while another may not.  This could be because of delivery technology or small differences in dosage.
  10. Triptans may be worth it:  Because of the success rate of triptan medications, and questions about previous concerns, many specialists are re-evaluating triptans and prescribing them more often.  Triptans may be prescribed for children with migraine, and migraine during pregnancy.  Talk to your doctor and get a second opinion if you’re not sure.

More about triptans and migraine here.

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12 comments… add one
  • Rhiannon Morgayne Jul 1, 2013

    Unfortunately, only the now banned non-specific 5-HT receptor agonists like ergotamine work for me. That means I’m s.o.l. 🙁

  • Ravinder Johal Jul 2, 2013

    I have been taking a Triptan for years and this info has been very useful. Thank you!

  • #8 concerns me. I have to take my migraine medicine more than twice a month. Occasionally I have to take it 2 times in 1 day, but I know I can’t go over that in a 24 hr. period. I’ll have to talk to my doctor about this next time I see him.

  • Janet Jul 6, 2013

    James, thanks for this. Could you write more about the need to get eyes checked? I have not heard that before.
    Regarding changing triptans I can vouch for that. I took Imitrex when it first came out, switched to Zomig after Imitrex became less effective for me, probably stayed on it too long, and a few years ago changed to Axert, which works fairly well for now.

  • Agnes Jul 8, 2013

    Dear James,
    Your warning about long-term use is a wake-up call, as is your advice on using triptans as part of a treatment plan. I have been using Imigran since 2001 at the rate of 1 50 mg tablet per 2 weeks and it works mostly very well for me.
    As a side effect I have an increased heat sensitivity, as when washing hands in warm water or drinking tea. Is there an explanation for this and have others experienced it?
    My other issue is with habituation. My migraines were linked to the hormone cycle. A friend of mine and my mother had the same trigger, but never took triptans and their migraines disappeared in menopause. I have been menopausal for 10 years, yet I still get the tell-tale signs and if I at times challenge my system and not take the Imigran, or take it too late, I do get the pains, the nausea, the vomiting. Has the involved neurotransmitter biochemistry become lazy and dependent on the triptan?

    • Teren Sep 21, 2013

      I don’t take triptans as often as some, perhaps 10 in the past 18 months, but last time I experience intense heat sensitivity in my hands. It was spooky! Tepid water felt as thought it was scalding my hands and they turned bright red. I plunged them in cold water and they immediately returned to normal. Tried it again and the same experience repeated. My doc doesn’t believe it’s related to the triptan (tho’ she’s not ruling it out), but I KNOW it had to be that.

  • donna Dec 23, 2013

    The heat sensitivity is from the medication. I get the same symptom. What I didn’t know was that some people didn’t get that reaction.

  • Agnes Dec 23, 2013

    Teren, scalding is the right word. I always make my cup of tea the same old way, but an hour or so after taking Imigran, when I have the first sip, it always feels as if I’m burning my mouth. I would love to know the cause. Any biochemist out there, who can give an explanation ?

  • Helen Harvey Feb 22, 2014

    I’ve been taking Naratriptan 2.5mg for migraine for the past 5 yrs as treatment (as and when have an attack). I also take on a daily basis Propranolol 40mg (2 to be taken twice a day) and if nec. I have Imigran 10mg (which I’ve yet to use). The treatment regime I have works for me. The longest gap between attacks for me is 8 Nov ’13 – 08 Feb ’14 (93 days).

  • Deborah McGhie May 16, 2016

    I’ve suffered with debilitating migraines for more than 25 years now. Ive tried every prophylactic drug in the book, even the top dose of Topamax and Botox injected into my head did nothing.

    When I first came across Zomig and Imigran it changed my life. But, unfortunately, they brought a new problem with them. Rather than getting rid of the migraine, Zomig and Imigran postpone it. For about 24 hours. Literally 24 hours later it just comes back. It has been like this for over 10 years now. Which means I have to take 5mg every day in order to just be normal. My doctor is not happy that I’m doing this but, as I told her, I need quality of life. Without sumatriptans, I get sucked into a cycle of severe migraines with projectile vomiting that take me over a week to recover from, leaving me weak and crushed.

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