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