The injected form of sumatriptan is used to treat
cluster headaches. Self-injection kits are available
so that you can give yourself the shot. Nasal and oral sumatriptan are also
You can take zolmitriptan as a pill (by mouth) or use
it as a nasal spray.
How It Works
Triptans (sometimes referred to as
5-HT-1 receptor agonists) shrink the blood vessels in the brain, which may
relieve pain by reducing pressure from
inflammation that can occur with cluster headaches.
Triptans may also affect certain brain chemicals that regulate pain.
Why It Is Used
Sumatriptan may be injected, sprayed
in the nose (nasal spray), or taken by mouth as a pill to stop cluster
Zolmitriptan may be sprayed in the nose (nasal spray)
or taken by mouth as a pill to stop cluster headaches.
How Well It Works
A shot of sumatriptan works very well to stop a cluster headache. When injected soon after a cluster headache starts, sumatriptan can stop headache pain within 15 minutes.1
Nasal and oral sumatriptan and zolmitriptan all work to stop cluster headaches. But they may not work as quickly or as well as a shot of sumatriptan.
Injected sumatriptan may cause the
following side effects:
feeling of warmth or coldness
- Burning at the injection site
The nasal spray of either medicine may cause:
- Bad taste in the
Side effects usually start shortly after you get the
medicine, and they go away within 1 hour. Some people may feel chest pressure or
tightness. This is usually not dangerous.
The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about taking SSRIs (selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or SNRIs (selective serotonin/norepinephrine
reuptake inhibitors), two kinds of antidepressant medicines, with triptans.
Taking these medicines together can cause a very rare but serious condition
called serotonin syndrome.
See Drug Reference for a full list of
side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Triptans should not be used if you have heart disease, uncontrolled high blood
pressure, or are pregnant or nursing.
Triptans should not be
combined with certain other medicines, such as ergotamines.
Triptans can be very expensive, so the cost of treating frequent cluster
headaches can add up. If you are thinking about using triptans to treat your
cluster headaches, you may want to weigh the cost of a triptan against the cost
of other medicines, office visits, and time lost from work.
important that you do not use triptans daily to treat or prevent
cluster headaches. Overuse of triptans can cause you to have more headaches
when the medicine wears off. These are called
rebound headaches. If you feel like you need to use
triptans often, talk to your doctor. He or she may have you try a different
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Capobianco DJ, Dodick DW (2006). Diagnosis and
treatment of cluster headache. Seminars in Neurology,