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Hail the Almighty Triptan!

Written and verified by Holly Hazen

Sumatriptan was the first triptan targeted for migraines that was released between 1991 and 1993. Imigran was the first one on the market that I heard about in 2006 and it was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) on July 30, 2004.

Triptan medication for a migraine is effective if... @MigraineSavvyWhich Triptan Will Work Best For You?

Glaxo Smith Kline Pty Ltd is the company that makes Imigran (Imitrex).

Their website has a wealth of information on each drug they manufacture including their most effective class of “designer drugs” for aborting migraine episodes.

The website also has product information, intended for healthcare professionals, that includes their clinical trials.

It took two years for me to hear about this new abortive treatment.

One of my clients told me about Naramig in 2006. Initially I was furious. 

Not any of the specialists or doctors I was seeing told me... but a client who had back surgery. She used it for her persistent pain and took one everyday to ease the suffering. She swore by its efficacy for pain relief. And now... so do I. 

I'd like to think that wouldn't happen now because you have more access to information via the internet. 

Thank God for the internet. But I urge to read with caution.

Make sure you are on reputable sites and always discuss things over with your physician before making any changes.

I hope you are one of the lucky ones that can take them. They have some contraindications that are listed below.

Basic Info – How They Work

Get the details on how triptans work @migrainesavvyGet the details on how triptans work @migrainesavvy

According to these medications work to:

  • decrease inflammation of your blood vessels in the brain causing the pain;
  • block the release of chemicals in the nerve endings;
  • and prevent the pain signals transmitting from the lining of the brain to the brain itself. 

They were designed to be the perfect abortive medication.

They cite a few very promising studies done with Frova (Frovatriptan) and Imitrex (Sumatriptan) resulting in a 50-60% reduction within two hours and the side effects of nausea, dizziness and fatigue were found similar to those taking the placebo. I think those are amazing results. 

If you haven’t tried one of these medications and you're still suffering from severe or frequent migraine attacks it might be worth a phone call and a trip to your doctor to discuss if this may be an option for you.

Let’s Get Straight to the Details

If you need more details on how they work, here's a direct quote from Emergency Medicine:

"Triptans are believed to alleviate migraine by several mechanisms. By binding to 5HT-1D receptors, the medication stops the release of neuropeptides at the trigeminal vascular junction. The cerebral meningeal vessels contain 5HT-1B receptors, which when triggered will produce sterile inflammation."

"The drug binds to these receptors and stop the sterile inflammation of meningeal arteries. In addition, this medication may act on central 5HT-1D receptors to limit pain transmission and associated migraine symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, and cognitive impairment."


Migraine Pain Management Course - it's FREE to enroll @migrainesavvy


I have a step-by-step pain management plan in my course. The first module is free so you can learn to manage your attacks asap... continue reading

What You Can Expect

If you take this prescribed medication at your earliest warning signal, or symptom, while it is still in the mild phase (according to the American Headache Society) then you can expect:

  • To be pain free within 2 to 4 hours of taking the prescribed medication; 
  • No recurrence of migraine within 24 hours of becoming pain free; 
  • To return to full functioning within 2 to 4 hours after taking the medication; 
  • No side effects or minimal side effects. 

If you already use one of these medications, how many ticks did you get? I get 2 out of 4 of these, so that's not bad in my opinion. 11 hours of pain relief with no breakthrough pain is good!

Acute intervention strategies will vary between individuals. Mild, intermittent migraines will be treated differently than severe or chronic migraines. How long it takes for your migraine to come on is important too.

For example, Naramig is the longest acting medication from this list, but it takes 2 hours to take effect. So you need to know your best window to take it... timing is everything. I cover that in depth in my course, here's the link - Migraine Pain Management Course.

Discuss all of this with your Doctor. S/he will need your whole health history to determine if these are safe for you. Please see the warning below... especially if you have heart problems.

Triptan Medication Disclaimer

Warning - individuals should also be advised against using this medication more than three times a week, unless they are being used specifically for menstrual migraine prevention.

They are not recommended for use (contraindicated) in pregnancy and in individuals with cardiovascular problems. They should also be used with extreme caution or in some cases not at all to treat basilar migraine and migraine with prolonged aura.

Your A to Z Triptan List

Triptan Migraine Drug List @migrainesavvyWhat's the best triptan to abort your attack? Naramig works best for me.

• Almotriptan (Axert®)

Preferred dose – 12.5 mgs
Form - oral
Onset of action – 2 hours

This is the least expensive one of the lot and after the individual becomes pain free within the 2 hours, the migraine rarely recurs. Studies show 39% of participants sustained a pain free response rate over multiple attacks.

• Eletriptan (Relpax®)

Preferred dose – 40 mgs
Form – oral
Onset of action – less than 30 minutes

This drug was approved in 2002 and has been available since 2003, it has an effect on eletriptan levels in the brain ( “This important enzymatic system also is responsible for the metabolism of drugs that may significantly increase eletriptan levels in the brain. Both the peripheral and central nervous system effects of it can be increased”. They go further to say that there is still limited data available to assess the true potential risk increasing these levels.

This medication has an interesting warning that “Patients should be advised that drinking grapefruit juice while taking" it as it "can increase cerebral blood levels of the drug. The drug does not interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitors”.

• Frovatriptan (Frova®)

Preferred dose – 2.5 mgs
Form – oral
Onset of action – 2 to 4 hours with half life of 6 hours

This one has a half life of 6 hours and has a lower headache recurrence rate than the other triptans except for naratriptan. It has a slower onset of action and may be more useful for migraines that develop slowly and last longer. It has minimal warnings will little potential for interactions with other drugs. It is recommended for menstrual migraines.

• Naratriptan (Naramig®, Amerge®)

Naramig is my savior. Hail this almighty drug! I was worried about long term use, but just the other day I heard an interview where the studies were now finding that long term use with these medications were actually found to reduce migraines more effectively over time. The study was done over a 6 year period. I wish I had caught the details so I could quote it for you. But for now, just know that this classification of medications is very effective for migraines.

Preferred dose – 2.5 mgs
Form – oral
Onset of action – 2 to 4 hours with half life of 25 hours

Naratriptan has a half life of 25 hours and has a lower headache recurrence rate than other triptans except for frovatriptan. The onset of action is slightly slower than that of the short acting triptans, so it is more useful for migraines that slowly come on and have long duration (like mine!).

There is minimum potential for interaction with other drugs. This medication has been proven to be most effective when taken at your earliest warning signal that your migraine is starting. It is also recommended for treating individuals that have migraines associated with menstruation.

• Rizatriptan (Maxalt®)

Preferred dose – 10 mgs
Form – oral wafer (disintegrating tablet)
Onset of action – 2 hours or less

Maxalt disintegrates on or under your tongue. It's nice it just dissolves and tastes like peppermint. It is used for migraineurs that experience nausea as an early symptom and can not take medications without vomiting them up.

Maxalt did not work for me. I had to take too many for just one migraine. And I started vomiting again ... not good. Just not for me.

• Sumatriptan (Imitrex®, Imigran®)

Different doses are available – oral tablets 25, 50, and 100 mgs.
Different Delivery Forms – Oral tablets, nasal spray, and injection.
Onset of action – 2 hours, less than 15 minutes for nasal spray and injection.

Sumatriptan is available in three forms - self-injection, nasal spray and rapidly dissolving tablets. The injection provides the fastest onset of action of all the triptans. The tablets at 50 and 100 mg doses eliminate migraine pain in over 60% of migraineurs within the two hour time period.

It is also found to help reduce migraine induced cognitive impairment. The injection form is most useful for migraine attacks that come on quickly and are accompanied with severe nausea and vomiting. The injection formulation is for instant intervention.

Imigran has strong side effects for me. Heart palpitations and confusion, but boy did it work well long term. It aborted the migraine after I passed out and felt euphoric upon waking. If I didn’t know better I’d give this one a another trial after all these years, but I am sure I will have the same response.

Wouldn't it be nice to feel better after a migraine instead of hung over! Ah but to dream!

• Sumatriptan and Naproxen Sodium (Treximet™)

Dose – 85 mgs of Sumatriptan and 500 mgs of Naproxen Sodium
Form – oral tablet
Onset of action – 2 hours or less

Treximet contains both Sumatriptan and Naproxen sodium which is a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). There are strong warnings that this may increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke and this chance increases with longer use of NSAID medicines.

Contraindications for people with a health history of heart disease, liver disease, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney problems, stomach ulcers or bleeding, an allergic reaction to aspirin, NSAIDS or Sumatriptan. Do not take before heart surgery. Do not take if you are pregnant. Do not take if you already take some antidepressants called SSRI’s or SNRI’s.

Do not take Treximet if you have taken an MAOI antidepressant within the last 2 weeks. Ok – there are too many warnings here for me to list. Discuss this thoroughly with your physician / MD before deciding to use this one as an abortive for your migraines.

This medication is not recommended if you have other risk factors for heart disease, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, are a male over the age of 40 or a post menopausal female.

• Zolmitriptan (Zomig®)

Preferred dose – 2.5 mgs (ZMT)
Form – oral tablets, oral “melt”(ZMT), nasal spray
Onset of action – 2 hours for orals and 15 minutes for nasal spray.

Zomig is available in three forms now: nasal spray, oral tablets, and “melt” tablets that disintegrate when placed on top of the tongue. Minimal side effects have been reported. Take this one at the earliest warning sign.

I tried this one – I think the 25 mgs tablet was too potent for me!  Like Imigran, I got heart palpitations and hot flushes and anxious over the scary side effects.

Warning: Zomig is not recommended for the prevention of migraines or for the treatment of hemiplegic or basilar migraines nor is it to be used for other types of headaches.

Triptans bring pain relief @migrainesavvyYou Want Fast Pain Relief

Their Common Side Effects

According to the American Headache Society the potential side effects with this family of medications are:

  • tightness in the chest, neck or jaw,
  • pressure,
  • rapid heart rate,
  • fatigue,
  • numbness or tingling (especially on the face),
  • a burning sensation on the skin.

Interestingly, the side effects have proven to be less likely to occur when these medications are taken early in the migraine attack.


A history of, or co-existing medical conditions will prevent you from using this class of medications:

  • coronary heart disease,
  • strokes,
  • uncontrolled high blood pressure or hypertension
  • and diabetes.

Always discuss any potential drug interactions (aka contraindications) with your doctor.

And get the complete print out from your supplying pharmacist about any contraindications with other medications like ergotamine and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's). 

Please be careful, I can’t say that enough.

Even supplements you are taking can have an effect, so make sure your doctor knows everything you are taking.

A Quick Triptan Q & A

What is the best prescription migraine medication?

The triptan family of drugs is the best for aborting a migraine attack. 


  • Almotriptan (Axert)
  • Eletriptan (Relpax)
  • Frovatriptan (Frova)
  • Naratriptan (Amerge)
  • Rizatriptan (Maxalt, Maxalt-MLT)
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • Sumatriptan and naproxen (Treximet)
  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig)

What is the best prescription headache medicine?

You can take over the counter medications like Advil, but for really bad headaches, severe headaches you may need a prescription from the family of triptan medications. Here's a list to take to your doctor:

  • Almotriptan (Axert)
  • Eletriptan (Relpax)
  • Frovatriptan (Frova)
  • Naratriptan (Amerge)
  • Rizatriptan (Maxalt, Maxalt-MLT)
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • Sumatriptan and naproxen (Treximet)
  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig)

Additional Ways To Treat Migraines

To treat your migraine attacks, you can often get better results by combining traditional medications with complementary and alternative therapies. Self care and meds!

If they are mild you may get away with just alternative therapies, but if they are severe, you might need to attack back on lots of levels. 

Don't underestimate making healthy choices for yourself. Please check out my migraine pain management course if you want to build some emotional stability as well.

And read How to Treat Migraine with Ice and Heat. It's the best way to abort an attack if you can. The ice definitely helps reduce the pain. I use it every time ... it's my number one go to.

Ok, so this got a bit long. But at least you can see that there are a number of medication options for you to trial. So don't give up ... persevere.

If one doesn't work... try another one. Or a different delivery system. It took me 3 attempts to get it right. Just like goldilocks! 

You will find effective pain relief.

Stay in touch by joining the mailing list. Stay well, and may you find pain free... asap!

You might like to read this...

Drug Class Review: Triptans - Drug Effectiveness Review Project, Marian McDonagh, PharmD, Principal Investigator, Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Mark Helfand, MD, MPH, Director. Portland (OR): Oregon Health & Science University; 2009 Jun.

P.S. For more current research articles, just search triptan in the top NCBI search bar.

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How to be more migraine savvy right now...

1. Glaxosmithkline Australia Pty Ltd (2015) Our Prescription Medicines and Vaccines. Available at: Accessed on June 2, 2016.
2. (2016) Migraine Treatments. Available at: Accessed June 27, 2016.
3. Emergency Medicine (2011) Understanding Migraine: Treatment Options. Available at: Accessed June 7, 2011.
4. American Headache Society (2006) Patient Information: Oral and Intranasal Triptan Therapy for Acute Migraine Headache. Available at: PDF Accessed May 30, 2011.