Triptans for migraine and headache
This page from Great Ormond Street Hospital explains about the medicines called triptans. Triptans are a group of medicines used to treat migraine or headache. They are also known as 5HT1-receptor agonists, which refer to the particular substance in the brain (5HT 1B/1D or serotonin) on which the medicines act.
Triptans do not prevent migraine or headache but they act on the pain once a migraine or headache has developed. There are several medicines in the triptan group including:
- Sumatriptan (available under the brand name Imigran®)
- Zolmitriptan (Zomig®)
- Rizatriptan (Maxalt®)
Some types of triptan are not licensed for use in children. Medicines are often used ‘off licence’ in children for a number of reasons for example limited data available for a specific use in children. This is not necessarily hazardous but should be explained and agreed before use. Your doctor will explain this further to you.
How are they given?
Triptans should be given as soon as a migraine or headache develops, while it is still mild to moderate. In many people, triptans do not work if taken during a migraine aura. Follow the instructions on the packet for the maximum dose per attack and in a week.
Triptans come in various formats.
Tablets to be taken whole by mouth
Tablets to be melted on the tongue
Zolmitriptan and Rizatriptan
Give to your child to place on their tongue while the tablet slowly dissolves. They may want a drink of water afterwards.
Injection under the skin (subcutaneously or SC)
We will show you how to give a subcutaneous injection. You can also read our information sheet to remind you.
Who should not take triptans?
People with the following conditions should discuss taking triptans with their doctor.
- Hypersensitivity to triptans or any of their ingredients
- Children aged under 12 years
- Existing liver problems
- Existing heart disease or uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Depression being treated with certain medicines such as fluoxetine or fluvoxamine
What are the side effects of triptans?
The following side effects have been reported. If your child experiences them, please discuss with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Chest pain
- Jaw, neck or chest pressure
- Skin irritation
If triptans are taken too often, they may cause an ‘overuse’ headache. If your child is taking triptans more than two or three times a week, discuss this with your doctor.
Triptans and other medicines
Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving your child any other medicines, including herbal or complementary medicines.
- Other pain relief medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can be taken 30 to 60 minutes before a triptan medicine.
- Certain antibacterials, such as erythromycin, clarithromycin and ciprofloxacin
- Certain antifungals, such as itraconazole or ketoconazole
- Certain antivirals, such as indinavir, nelfinavir and ritonavir
- Keep medicines in a safe place where children cannot reach them.
- The medicine should be kept in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight and heat.
- If your doctor decides to stop treatment or the medicine passes its expiry date, return any unused medicine to the pharmacist. Do not flush them down the toilet or throw them away.