What is the role of triptans in the treatment of migraine headache?

Updated: Oct 21, 2019
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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Although the triptans share a common mechanism of action, they differ in the available routes of administration, onset of action, and duration of action. Routes of administration include oral, intranasal, subcutaneous, and intramuscular. Transdermal patches have proved effective for the delivery of sumatriptan, and one such product has received FDA approval. [97] The sumatriptan iontophoretic transdermal system (Zecuity, NuPathe Inc) was approved by the FDA in January 2013 for the acute treatment of migraine with or without aura in adults. The single-use patch also treats migraine-related nausea. In phase 3 trials involving 800 patients, the patches safely and effectively relieved migraine pain, migraine-related nausea, sonophobia, and photophobia within 2 hours of activation. [97]

The FDA approved a low-dose intranasal sumatriptan powder for migraine in January 2016. The product consists of 22 mg of sumatriptan powder and is the first breath-powered intranasal medication delivery system to treat migraines. Approval was based on data from phase 2 and phase 3 trials, reference data on the use of sumatriptan, and safety data from more than 300 patients. [98, 99]

All the triptans are most effective when taken early during a migraine and all may be repeated in 2 hours as needed, with a maximum of 2 doses daily. While different formulations of a specific triptan may be used in the same 24-hour period, only 1 triptan may be used during this time frame.

The longer-acting triptans (eg, frovatriptan, naratriptan) may be used continuously for several days (mini-prophylaxis) to treat menstrual migraine. Triptans should not be used more than 3 days weekly, to avoid transformed migraine and medication overuse headache.

The effectiveness and tolerability of triptans varies among patients. Lack of response or side effects experienced with one triptan does not predict the response to another.

The safety of triptans is well established, and the risk of de novo coronary vasospasm from triptan use is exceedingly rare. However, triptans should not be taken by patients with known or suspected coronary artery disease, as they may increase risk of myocardial ischemia, infarction, or other cardiac or cerebrovascular events.

The dose of rizatriptan must be reduced to 5 mg in patients taking propranolol. Sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, and rizatriptan are primarily metabolized by monoamine oxidase (MAO) and should be avoided in patients taking MAO-A inhibitors.

The first combination product of a triptan and an NSAID, Treximet, was approved by the FDA in 2008. Treximet contains sumatriptan and naproxen sodium. In 2 randomized, double-blind, multicenter, parallel-group trials, a significantly greater percentage of patients remained pain free for 24 hours postdose after a single dose of Treximet (25% and 23%) than after use of placebo (8% and 7%) or either sumatriptan (16% and 14%) or naproxen sodium (10%) alone. [100]

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