Sumatriptan is a medication that is used to treat migraines and cluster headaches. It should be taken at the onset of pain, but does not prevent the migraine or cluster headache from occurring in the first place.
What is Sumatriptan?
- Sumatriptan is taken once the migraine or cluster headache has started
- It can be used if paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen have not worked
- It usually works within 30 to 60 minutes
- It is part of the triptan family of medications
- It does not work on tension headaches
- It is important to read the patient leaflet for a full list of side effects and cautions.
How Does Sumatriptan Work?
Sumatriptan is a serotonin (5-HT1) agonist. It works on the receptors at blood vessels and nerve endings within the brain.
Sumatriptan is thought to work in three ways to reduce the pain of a migraine or cluster headache once it has started.
- Blood vessel dilation (widening) is responsible for some of the pain of a migraine or cluster headache. Sumatriptan causes constriction (narrowing) of the vessels within the head to reduce the pain of a migraine or cluster headache.
- Sumatriptan prevents the release of neuropeptides that would cause vessels to dilate. This also reduces the pain associated with blood vessel dilation.
- The medication reduces the transmission of pain signals along the nerves within the brain, reducing your perception of the pain of the migraine or cluster headache.
How is Sumatriptan Taken?
Sumatriptan is available in a range of forms. Each should be taken as soon as you feel the migraine or cluster headache starting.
Tablets should be swallowed with water. They can be snapped in half if you find them difficult to swallow. Tablets usually work within 30 to 60 minutes.
A single use nasal spray should be sprayed into one nostril whilst holding the other nostril closed. Breathe deeply to inhale the dose. The nasal spray usually works within 15 minutes. Another dose can be inhaled after two hours if the headache comes back.
Migraine injections come in pre-filled syringes. This should usually be injected into the thigh, but it is important to thoroughly read the manufacturer’s instructions. The injection can work within 10 to 15 minutes.
What is the proper dosage of Sumatriptan?
The dose of sumatriptan will depend on the preparation you are prescribed.
The usual dose when taking tablets is 50mg at the onset of a migraine or cluster headache.
The nasal spray is available in preparations of 10mg or 20mg, and your prescriber will decide which strength will suit you best.
An injection of sumatriptan usually contains 6mg.
Are there any side effects to Sumatriptan?
Many people will have no side effects when taking sumatriptan. However, the common side effects are often short lived for those who do experience them. They include:
- Nausea and vomiting (feeling sick or being sick)
- Feeling dizzy or tired
- Feeling hot or cold
- Nasal irritation, an unpleasant taste in your mouth, or nosebleeds with the nasal spray
- Bruising or swelling at the injection site when using the injection.
If these are troublesome they can be discussed with a healthcare professional.
Occasionally, more serious side effects can occur including:
- Heaviness, tingling or tightness in the face, arms, legs or chest
- Feelings of warmth or cold in the face, arms, legs or chest.
If you have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) including breathlessness, lip or tongue swelling, call 999 immediately.
What warnings does Sumatriptan come with?
Sumatriptan is not suitable for everyone, including some people who:
- Take certain antidepressants
- Have heart or circulation problems including high blood pressure
- Have had a stroke or mini stroke
- Have seizures
- Have liver disease
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are a heavy smoker.
Even if one or more of these affects you, sumatriptan could still be a suitable treatment option. During the Consultation with Life Meds Pharmacy, you will be asked to complete a health questionnaire to decide whether sumatriptan is a safe choice.