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Should You Take Triptans for Your Migraine?

Triptans have been one of the most effective migraine drugs on the market since the 1990’s, when they became available. Considered a first-line therapy for individuals suffering from moderate to severe migraine, triptans are typically associated with better outcomes than aspirin, acetaminophen, ergots, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

However, triptans are not for everyone. If you’ve ever wondered whether you should take triptans for your migraine, today’s article may help you come to an informed decision.

Man takes a triptan to treat his migraine headache

What are Triptans?

Triptans constrict your brain’s blood vessels, thereby relieving swelling. They also have other properties that can help treat migraine symptoms. However, there is a bit of unknown territory when it comes to triptans; in fact, exactly how they stop a migraine remains a point of contention within the medical community.

Here are some other facts and tips regarding triptans:

  • About three out of five individuals who take a triptan will feel pain relief within two hours.
  • For best results, take the triptan as soon as you feel the first hint of a migraine attack.
  • Triptans are not a preventative treatment like Botox, anticonvulsants, or Beta Blockers. They are an abortive therapy that can potentially stop, shorten, or minimize symptoms of a migraine when it’s about to happen.
  • Some studies have shown that 50 to 60 percent of migraine patients consistently respond well to triptans for symptom relief.
  • Many individuals who don’t feel full relief still at least feel partial relief.
  • Triptans often work even better when used in their injectable form, or taken in combination with aspirin or acetaminophen. (But please ask your doctor before trying any combinations on your own!)
  • Triptans can help with migraine symptoms other than head pain, such as nausea and vomiting.

Are Triptans Right for You?

If you experience mild to moderate migraine pain, the American Academy of Neurology recommends trying over-the-counter pain relief options before you consider taking a triptan. Nonprescription pain relief options include the following:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

However, if you suffer from the head-screaming pain attacks known as migraines, there’s a good chance you tried all of those a long time ago. Most migraine patients report that over-the-counter medications simply aren’t strong enough, so if other treatment options have been fruitless, you’re not alone. If migraines are having a negative or even crippling impact on your day-to-day life, there is a good chance triptans are your best option.

According to a 2010 study, migraines occur in about 8 to 24 percent of children and teens. Luckily, both nonprescription NSAIDS and some triptans have been proven safe for young migraine patients. Some of the most effective pediatric triptans include:

  • Nasal sumatriptan
  • Nasal zolmitriptan
  • Oral almotriptan
  • Oral rizatriptan

There are other triptans out there than have been proven safe for kids and adolescents, but the four listed above are a great place to start. As always, talk to your doctor about what is best for your child!

Are Triptans Wrong for You?

As with most medications, triptans are not right for everyone.

Triptans should be avoided by individuals with cerebrovascular disease, heart disease or even heart disease risk factors. Heart disease risk factors include:

  • Family history of early heart disease or stroke
  • High blood pressure (especially uncontrolled high blood pressure)
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity/being significantly overweight
  • Smoking

If you’d like to learn more about lessening your risk of heart disease, check out this article!

Middle aged and older people should also be careful. Proceed with caution if you are a woman over 55 or man over 40.

Migraine sufferer asks doctor about triptan medication

If you are pregnant, triptans are also not your best bet. Your changing hormones can worsen or better your migraines, but even if you’re suffering from the former, you should avoid the risks of migraine medication. Instead, talk to your doctor about natural treatments such as:

  • Acupuncture
  • Ginger
  • Menthol

If you experience migraines with aura (a disturbance of the senses that precedes the pain), triptan use is a little more complicated. First of all, you might need to experiment with the timing. There is no medically established answer for whether you should take the triptan before, during, or after the aura; it’s something you have to find out on your own.

There are, however, two types of migraine with auras that are NOT safe to treat with triptans:

  1. Basilar migraines. They begin in the brainstem, affecting coordination and balance.
  2. Hemiplegic migraines. They manifest themselves with symptoms of numbness on one side of the body before the migraine attack begins.

Since triptans affect your seratonin, most people taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), SNRIs (Serotonin—norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) or MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) must be extra careful. If you are on an antidepressant, talk to your doctor about whether also using a triptan would put you at risk of serotonin syndrome. Sometimes naratriptan, sold under the brand name Amerge, is safe for patients in your shoes.

Different Triptans for Different Folks

Everyone’s body and situation is unique, so what triptan is the best one varies from person to person. Most people prefer standard oral medication, but certain triptans also come as:

  • Nasal sprays
  • Nasal powders
  • Injectables
  • Needle-less injectables
  • Skin patches

If you suffer from nausea or vomiting before or during your migraine, you may prefer an option that bypasses your digestive system over an oral pill. Some people even prefer to have a variety of different options on hand, so they can chose their triptan depending on the specifics of that migraine. Of course, this depends on your doctor’s advice and which triptans are safe for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about the different triptans on the market, this article goes into greater depth. If you suffer from chronic migraines, you should also know that we conduct clinical trials at our clinic here in Birmingham.

Click here to learn more about our migraine clinical trials.

Conclusion

We hope this article has shed some light on your decision regarding triptans for your migraine. Like most medications, there are specific situations in which you should avoid taking triptans and some side effects including tingling, face redness, pressure sensations, and risk of serotonin syndrome. The last of these can be very serious, so seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Faintness
  • Fast heart beat
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sweating
  • Trouble walking

However, we don’t mean to scare you off! Triptans are arguably the most effective migraine relief on the market. Since migraines can be cripplingly painful and inhibit your day-to-day activities, triptans can be downright life-changing. It’s ultimately up to you and your doctor to evaluate whether triptans are right for your unique needs.

If you’d like to learn more, please be sure to check out our other posts on migraine headaches.

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