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What is Sumatriptan?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sumatriptan is a medication that may be used to relieve the symptoms of migraines, including headache pain. In the United States, patients may only use this drug with a doctor's prescription. Sumatriptan may be taken by mouth in tablet form, or it is also available as a nasal spray.

This drug is classified as a selective serotonin receptor agonist. That means that it works to constrict blood vessels in the patient's head. It also prevents pain signals from being sent via nerve impulses.

Migraine headaches often develop along with other symptoms. These may include an increased sensitivity to noise or light. Some patients also report nausea. Sumatriptan may help relieve all of these symptoms as well as the accompanying headache pain. It does not, however, prevent future migraine attacks; it is taken on an as-needed basis.

This medication should be taken as soon as the patient begins experiencing symptoms. One dose should be sufficient in most cases. If the patient continues to suffer from a migraine, the doctor may advise taking a second dose. This second dose usually may only be taken at least two hours after the first one. Doctors recommend that patients never exceed 40 milligrams (mg) of nasal spray or 200 mg of the tablet in any 24 hour time period.

Before taking sumatriptan, patients should fully disclose other medications or supplements they are taking to a doctor. This drug may interact with drugs such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or with other migraine medications. Patients should also inform the prescribing doctor of any drug allergies they have.

Sumatriptan may not be appropriate for patients with certain medical conditions. The physician may advise pregnant or breastfeeding women, for instance, to use this drug cautiously. Those who have a history of cardiovascular problems, including heart disease, chest pain, and high blood pressure, may be unable to use it. Diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol can also preclude one from taking this migraine medication.

Patients taking sumatriptan should be aware of potential side effects. It can cause drowsiness, which may affect one's ability to drive or operate heavy equipment. Consuming alcohol can increase this effect.

This drug can also cause dizziness, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Muscle cramps, flushing, and a sensation of warmth or tingling may occur as well, and some people may experience vomiting. Nasal irritation also may result from using the spray medication.

Severe side effects warrant a doctor's immediate care. These can include changes in one's vision, hives, or a skin rash. Some patients have reported pain or a tightness in the chest as well as rapid heartbeat, severe stomach pain, and difficulty breathing.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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