What Are Triptans?


What are triptans?

Triptans are a class of prescription medications used for the treatment of migraine headaches. They work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain, constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Numerous triptans have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some are taken orally, as a pill or as a tablet that dissolves under the tongue; others come in the form of nasal sprays or injections.

Triptans are widely prescribed because of their ability to relieve the various symptoms of migraines and their favorable side-effect profile. Triptans are most effective when promptly taken at the first signs of a migraine. When triptans are injected, they typically begin to take effect after ten minutes. Other forms (pill, dissolving tablet and nasal spray) begin to take effect after 20 to 60 minutes.

Triptans that are currently available with a prescription include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Almotriptan
  • Eletriptan
  • Frovatriptan
  • Naratriptan
  • Rizatriptan
  • Sumatriptan
  • Zolmitriptan

Side effects of triptans

The possible side effects of triptans include mild neck tightness, chest pressure, and tingling, numbness or flushing of the skin. These side effects occur most often in individuals who use the injectable form of the medication, women and younger individuals.

In rare cases, triptans can cause serious cardiac complications. Individuals who are at risk for stroke or heart attack should be screened for cardiovascular disease before taking triptans.

Interactions with other medications

Individuals who have taken ergotamine medications within the last 24 hours should not take triptans. Triptans should also not be taken with antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or selective serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Since both triptans and SSRIs and SNRIs increase levels of serotonin, taking them together could lead to serotonin syndrome (a potentially life-threatening condition).