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Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Triptans (Serotonin Receptor Agonists) for Migraine Headaches
These medicines are available as tablets (you swallow them or they dissolve in your mouth), nasal sprays, shots, and patches you put on your skin.
Triptans narrow (constrict) blood
vessels in the brain and relieve swelling. Triptans have other properties that
may help treat
migraine symptoms. It is not clear how they work to
stop a migraine.
These drugs are used to effectively
and quickly relieve headache pain, sensitivity to light and noise, and nausea
and vomiting associated with migraines. They are especially helpful if you have
moderate to severe headaches that interfere with your ability to perform daily
These drugs are effective in
reducing migraine symptoms and are well tolerated.1 But it is hard to know which
triptan is the most effective. A triptan that works
well for someone else may not work well for you. You may have to try more than
one triptan to find the one that works best for you.
best when they are taken as soon as the headache starts. But they can still
reduce headache pain and other symptoms when taken after the attack has begun.
You may find that combining a triptan with a
nonprescription medicine (such as acetaminophen or naproxen) helps to stop your
headaches better. Talk to your doctor about this option if triptans alone
aren't helping enough.
Some triptan drugs may
also help to prevent migraines in women who get them only around the time of
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Call your doctor right away if you have:
Common side effects of this medicine include:
FDA advisories. The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about taking SSRIs
or SNRIs (used for depression, anxiety, pain, and many other conditions) with triptans. Taking these medicines together
can cause a very rare but serious condition called serotonin syndrome.
Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not
available in all systems.)
Overuse of migraine drugs can
rebound headaches. Rebound headaches are different
from migraine headaches. They are usually triggered after pain medicine has
worn off, prompting you to take another dose. Eventually you get a headache
whenever you stop taking the drug. Be sure to take your migraine medicine only
as prescribed by your doctor.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Drugs for migraine (2011). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 9(102): 7–12.
Silberstein SD, et al. (2012). Evidence-based guideline update: Pharmacologic treatment for episodic migraine prevention in adults: Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society. Neurology, 78(17): 1337–1345.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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