Sumatriptan is part of the family of drugs known as triptans, and is commonly used to treat migraine headaches. Most triptans that are manufactured are used for this purpose as well. The similarity of this medication to serotonin, a chemical in the brain that is involved in the regulation of inflammation and blood pressure in this area, can make using sumatriptan for migraines an effective option.
This medication works to relieve headache pain by using multiple mechanisms. Serotonin receptors are found throughout blood vessels in the brain, and taking sumatriptan for migraines allows the medication to bind these receptors and reduce inflammation that occurs during these headaches. Additionally, this drug constricts certain arteries that are normally dilated when a migraine is in progress. It also serves to reduce the volume of signals coming from the a cranial nerve known as the trigeminal nerve, which seems to aid in the cessation of some headaches.
Research has shown that taking sumatriptan for migraines generally yields positive results. Several symptoms caused by these headaches, including pain, nausea, and sensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds decrease in the majority of people taking this medication. Studies have shown that four-fifths of individuals taking this drug orally for a migraine experienced a decrease in pain after 30 minutes. Taking the medication through intravenous (IV) injection or inhaled as a spray produced relief even more quickly.
Most medications carry some types of risks in the form of side effects, and using sumatriptan for migraines may sometimes cause adverse events. Chest pain, fatigue, vertigo, and abnormal physical sensations are generally the most commonly experienced adverse effects from this medication, but do not usually require any further medical attention. Rarely, myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, can occur from IV or oral usage of sumatriptan. A reversible side effect, sulfhemaglobinemia, that could require a doctor's attention occurs from high-dose use of this medication, and is characterized by a greenish tint to the blood from large amounts of sulfur.
The majority of people with these severe headaches experience relief after taking sumatriptan for migraines. There is a subset of individuals that do not seem to respond to this drug, however, which may be due to individual differences in the ability of the medication to reach the bloodstream from the stomach. In patients that do not experience relief from sumatriptan, other migraine treatment options such as rizatriptan, a related drug, may be more efficacious.