Migraine is a neurological condition affecting millions of people every day. And for many people, it seriously impacts quality of life.

Migraine is a complex condition that can cause various symptoms, including severe, debilitating migraine attacks, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Today there are several medication options to both prevent migraine attacks or treat migraine symptoms.

Triptans are one class, or group, of medications that can treat migraine attacks after they start.

Triptans cannot prevent a migraine attack from happening. Instead, these medications help relieve symptoms by shrinking swollen blood vessels in the brain that develop from migraine attacks.

Let’s cover what triptans are and how they work for migraine symptoms.

Triptans are prescription medications. They’re available in both brand-name and generic options in various dosage forms.

They’re also called serotonin receptor agonists. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that nerve cells produce. It’s found in different nerves all over the body, including the brain.

While the exact cause of migraine attacks is unclear, scientists believe during a migraine attack sensitive nerves become inflamed and blood vessels in the brain expand. This causes pain and other symptoms.

Triptans work by tamping down overactive nerves in the brain caused by a migraine attack. They also help shrink blood vessels back to normal. This helps manage migraine symptoms.

A 2015 research review compared triptans and other migraine treatment options. Researchers found that standard doses of triptans were effective at relieving migraine attacks in 42 to 76 percent of participants within 2 hours.

Triptans are available in several dosage forms. The dosage form your doctor prescribes may depend on your symptoms. For example, if you have nausea and vomiting with migraine, your doctor may prescribe a nasal spray instead of pills to swallow.

Dosage forms include:

  • oral tablet that you swallow
  • oral, quick-dissolving tablet
  • nasal spray
  • injection

You may experience some side effects from triptan medications. For most people, side effects go away after a few uses, but some people can experience more serious side effects.

Side effects can depend on different factors like:

  • your age
  • any coexisting health conditions (if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure, triptans may not be right for you)
  • other medications you take

Common side effects include:

  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • sleepiness
  • burning or unpleasant taste (from nasal spray)
  • pain and redness (from injection)
Serious side effects

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience:

These aren’t all the side effects triptans can cause. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information about the risks and side effects, and how to minimize them.

Triptans can interact with several other medications, supplements, or herbal products. Be sure to discuss all the medications and over-the-counter products you take with your doctor and pharmacist.

Interactions are possible with:

These types of medications and products can increase triptan side effects. Some of them are also used to treat migraine attacks.

There are several triptan medications available. The right one for you depends on factors like how often you experience symptoms, the types of symptoms, and if you’ve tried a triptan in the past that worked.

Options include:

  • almotriptan (Axert)
  • eletriptan (Relpax)
  • frovatriptan (Frova)
  • naratriptan (Amerge)
  • rizatriptan (Maxalt)
  • sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • sumatriptan/naproxen sodium (Treximet)
  • zolmitriptan (Zomig)

A 2019 study compared the effectiveness and dosage form of seven triptan medications and found:

  • Among oral medications, eletriptan at a 40-milligram (mg) dose had the highest effectiveness compared with all oral medications.
  • Naratriptan (2.5 mg) had the lowest effectiveness among other oral triptans.
  • Subcutaneous (under the skin) injection was more effective than oral medications.
  • Nasal sprays were as effective as oral tablets.
  • Injectable sumatriptan (6 mg) provided the fastest pain relief.

A 2017 research review comparing side effect risks of migraine treatments found almotriptan had the highest risk of vomiting associated with use.

Triptan medications may not be right for everyone. If you have certain health conditions, discuss your medical history with your doctor so they can decide whether triptans are suitable for you to take.

Conditions that may increase risks with triptans include:

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, speak with your doctor about triptan medications and whether they’re safe for you to take.

The exact medication, dosage, and form (i.e., tablet, nasal spray, or injection) will depend on the medication and your symptoms, age, and other factors like body weight.

Your doctor will discuss risks and benefits of the medications and which medication and dosage will work best for your symptoms.

Don’t take more doses of your medication than prescribed. Keep in mind that using these medications too often can cause medication overuse headache, also known as rebound headache.

Brand nameGeneric nameDosage form and strengthAgeApproved for
Amergenaratriptantablet (1 mg, 2.5 mg)adultsmigraine attack
Axertalmotriptantablet (6.25 mg, 12.5 mg)adults and children 12–17migraine attack
Frovafrovatriptantablet (2.5 mg)adultsmigraine attack
Imitrexsumatriptantablet (25 mg, 50 mg, 100 mg)

injection vial (6 mg/0.5 mL)

prefilled syringe (4 mg, 6 mg)

nasal spray (5 mg, 20 mg)
adultsmigraine attack (tablets and nasal spray); acute migraine attack and cluster headache (*injection only)
Maxalt, Maxalt-MLTrizatriptantablet (5 mg, 10 mg)

oral dissolving tablet (5 mg, 10 mg)
adults and children 6–17migraine attack
Relpaxeletriptantablet (20 mg, 40 mg)adultsmigraine attack
Treximetsumatriptan/naproxen sodiumtablet (10 mg sumatriptan/60mg naproxen)

tablet (85 mg sumatriptan/500 mg naproxen sodium)
adults and children 12–17migraine attack
Zomigzolmitriptantablet (2.5 mg, 5 mg)

oral dissolving tablet (2.5 mg, 5 mg)

nasal spray (2.5 mg, 5 mg)
adultsmigraine attack

There are several options to prevent migraine attacks and treat acute symptoms. Prevention medications are taken on a regular basis to lower the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

Some options for migraine prevention include:

Examples of alternative migraine treatments include:

Triptans have been around for many years and are used for acute migraine treatment, but they’re not right for everyone. Your doctor can explain the benefits and risks of triptans and whether these medications are the right option for you.

Consider these tips to help monitor and manage your migraine symptoms:

  • Avoid migraine triggers as much as possible. Stress, anxiety, and certain foods are common triggers.
  • Keep a migraine diary to track attacks. Over time, you may see a pattern that can help inform your treatment.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Don’t skip meals.
  • Have a good sleep routine.
  • Exercise more often than not.
  • Avoid heavy alcohol and caffeine consumption.