Triptans are a class of medications used to treat migraines that are categorized as acute. Acute medications are designed to stop a migraine attack or cluster headache after the attack begins. By stopping the migraine, acute medications help alleviate the symptoms of migraines such as pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Unlike other acute medications, triptans are considered selective serotonin receptor agonists, meaning that triptans work by stimulating serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the brain, to reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels, thereby stopping the headache or migraine.

Triptan Use

Triptans are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat moderate to severe migraines, and in some instances cluster headaches, that interfere with one’s ability to perform daily tasks. As an acute medication, triptans are most effective when taken early in an attack while the pain is still mild and before skin sensitivity increases. Some triptan drugs may also help to prevent migraines in women who get them only around the time of their menstrual period.

Triptan Considerations

Triptans are effective in reducing migraine symptoms and are generally well tolerated; however, migraine sufferers should discuss the following with their physician 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.
  • Triptans should be taken only as prescribed by a physician.

There are currently seven triptan medications available in the United States.

Triptans: An Unmet Need

A recent study of nearly 6.2 million insured patients found that many migraines were misdiagnosed or under diagnosed which can lead to inadequate treatment. When patients were diagnosed with migraine and prescribed a medication, more than half received narcotics and opioid analgesics, which are not approved by the FDA for the treatment of migraines. The consequences of inadequate treatment for disabling migraine may include productivity loss, and adverse events associated with excessive medication use.