What should I know about triptans?

Triptans are also called serotonin (5HT-1) receptor agonists. They are among the newest remedies for treating migraine and cluster headaches. They are also the first treatments designed specifically to work on migraines.

Triptans can stop a migraine headache once it starts. They come in an oral form, as a nasal spray, and in an injectable form. Oral forms are easier to use. The injectable form and the nasal spray, on the other hand, begin working more quickly, and are useful if nausea and vomiting are problems.

How do triptans work?

Triptans cause blood vessels in the brain to constrict and change blood flow. This prevents a brain chemical called substance P from being released. Substance P contributes to the inflammation and pain of a migraine. So as constriction continues and the substance is blocked, headache symptoms go away.

What are the possible side effects from using triptans and what should I do about them?

The following side effects are usually not considered serious. However, you should check with your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • aches and pains
  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • flushing
  • nausea
  • sleepiness
  • tingling
  • unpleasant taste with nasal spray
  • vomiting
  • weakness

These medicines can also have more serious side effects that you should not ignore. Get medical help at once if you experience chest pain or pressure, dizziness, or difficulty breathing while taking them.

What drugs may interact with triptans and what other health conditions might create a problem?

Talk with your pharmacist or doctor about possible interactions with triptans. You should tell your doctor or pharmacist about the other medications you take as well as about any other medical conditions you have. You also need to keep your regular appointments while you are taking triptans so that your doctor can monitor your progress.

Taking triptans with any of the following could cause serious problems. Before you start to take triptans, let your doctor know if you are taking:

  • antidepressants such as MAO inhibitors
  • beta-blockers
  • drugs containing ergot
  • ulcer medications such as cimetidine

Also, you should not take triptans if you have heart disease or uncontrollable high blood pressure. Discuss the fact that you have these conditions with your doctor before you start to take any medications.

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