Sumatriptan: 6 things you should know
Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm Last updated on Jan 11, 2019.
1. How it works
- Sumatriptan may be used to relieve symptoms of a migraine. Sumatriptan binds strongly to serotonin 5‑HT1B/1D receptors and is thought to relieve migraine symptoms through an inhibition of pro-inflammatory substances and a constriction of cranial blood vessels.
- Sumatriptan belongs to the class of medicines known as selective serotonin receptor agonists. Sumatriptan may also be called a triptan.
- Effective for the acute treatment of a migraine with or without aura in adults.
- In most people, sumatriptan works quickly, within 5 minutes for the injection or within 10 to 20 minutes with the tablets.
- Available as an oral tablet, a nasal spray, a nasal powder for inhalation, and in an injectable form. An autoinjection system is available for self-administration.
- Because sumatriptan works quickly and effectively, it may decrease the need for other pain-relieving medications and allow a person to quickly return to their normal routine.
- Generic sumatriptan is available.
If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:
- Drowsiness or dizziness, fatigue, tingling or numbness in the fingers or toes, or a feeling of weakness.
- A sensation of tightness, pain, pressure, or heaviness in the throat, neck, jaw or over the heart has been reported by some people after taking sumatriptan. This is a common occurrence and is usually not a sign of a heart problem. However, if you are at risk of heart problems, or if you are concerned in any way, you should see a doctor for an evaluation.
- Higher dosages carry a greater risk of side effects. Experts are unsure whether a 100mg dose of sumatriptan is any more beneficial than a 50mg dose.
- Should only be used if a clear diagnosis of a migraine headache has been established. The diagnosis of a migraine will need to be reconsidered if the migraine attack does not respond to the first dose of sumatriptan. Do not keep administering sumatriptan. Safety and effectiveness, when used for other headache disorders (such as cluster headache) has not been established.
- Sumatriptan is not a preventive medicine and will not prevent future migraine attacks.
- Sumatriptan is not suitable for people with certain cardiovascular conditions including coronary artery disease, Prinzmetal’s angina, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), uncontrolled high blood pressure, or peripheral vascular disease.
- Sumatriptan should also not be taken by people with a history of hemiplegic or basilar migraine, ischemic bowel disease, severe hepatic impairment, or who have recently taken certain medicines including ergotamine derivatives and monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
- Sumatriptan has been associated with an increased risk of stroke, hemorrhage or TIA; however, it is not clear whether this is due to the presence of migraine, or people mistaking stroke symptoms for those of a migraine. Do not take sumatriptan if you have previously had a stroke or TIA.
- Sumatriptan tablets may also cause other serious side effects such as circulatory disturbances, vision loss, seizures, increased blood pressure, and allergic reactions.
- May interact with a number of different drugs including ergot-containing drugs and those that increase serotonin (such as antidepressants, St Johns Wort, and antipsychotics).
Notes: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. For a complete list of all side effects, click here.
- Start treatment as soon as you develop migraine symptoms or symptoms that typically occur with a migraine (such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light).
- A second dose may be administered if the migraine has not resolved within two hours of taking an initial dose of sumatriptan tablets, or if only a transient improvement in symptoms is noted. The second dose must be administered at least two hours after the first dose. Do not take more than 200mg of sumatriptan in a 24 hour period. See your doctor if you have more than four headaches in a 30-day period that require sumatriptan treatment.
- If the initial sumatriptan dose has been given by injection, and the migraine returns, sumatriptan tablets may be administered at two-hour intervals up to a maximum cumulative tablet dose of 100mg/day.
- Talk to your doctor if you have had more than four episodes of a migraine in a 30-day period for which you have taken sumatriptan for. Overuse of sumatriptan and other acute migraine drugs may lead to medication overuse headache (symptoms include daily headaches or a marked increase in migraine frequency).
- Symptoms of a stroke or TIA may be easily mistaken for those of a migraine. A stroke tends to come on suddenly, whereas symptoms of a migraine with aura tend to evolve gradually over several minutes. The headache of a migraine also tends to intensify to a peak rather than instantaneously developing. Vision disturbances can be experienced during both a stroke or a migraine; however, other effects, such as flashing lights or zigzagging lines usually occur only with migraines. You may not realize your vision has been impaired with a stroke until you start bumping into things. It is rare for migraines to suddenly develop during adulthood; most people experience their first one in childhood. If you have any concerns at all that your symptoms may be those of a stroke, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.
- There is a risk of serotonin syndrome developing if too high a dosage of sumatriptan is used or other drugs are taken that also increase serotonin levels in the body. Symptoms include hallucinations, agitation, fast heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and incoordination. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any other medication or herbal product that may interact with sumatriptan. If you develop symptoms suggestive of serotonin syndrome, discontinue sumatriptan and talk to your doctor straight away.
- See your doctor if you experience any side effects of concern such as changes in the color or sensation in your fingers and toes, sudden or severe stomach pain, weight loss, bloody diarrhea, cramping, cold or hot feelings in parts of your body, hives or a swelling of your tongue, mouth or throat.
- Either a migraine, or treatment for a migraine, may cause drowsiness. Do not drive or operate machinery or perform other hazardous tasks if a migraine or its treatments make you drowsy.
- Do not drink alcohol if you have taken a dose of sumatriptan.
6. Response and Effectiveness
- Sumatriptan oral tablets usually start working within 30 minutes, with the peak effect occurring within two to four hours. The effects of the injection are usually apparent within 5 minutes.
- Liver disease can dramatically shorten the time it takes for sumatriptan to act and the length of time it lasts for in the body.
Sumatriptan [Package Insert] Revised 10/2018. Aurobindo Pharma Limited https://www.drugs.com/pro/sumatriptan.html
Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use sumatriptan only for the indication prescribed.
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