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Migraine Abortives (Triptans) & Serotonin Syndrome

Migraine abortive drugs called triptans can cause the potentially serious serotonin syndrome in rare cases, according to a study in the May 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Serotonin syndrome is a known risk when combining antidepressants and triptans. The new study shows that triptans alone can cause serotonin syndrome.

Serotonin syndrome is most likely to happen when you first start taking the medication. It is very rare and, even if it does happen, the remedy is to stop taking the medication. According to Migraine Medications May Cause ‘Serotonin Syndrome’ in the Washington Post:

The average age for someone experiencing serotonin syndrome associated only with triptan therapy was 39.9 years, and the most common symptoms included tremor, stiffness, palpitations, high blood pressure and agitation, according to the study.

Five people required hospitalization, and two cases were classified as “life-threatening.” Four of the 11 cases cleared up within an hour of treatment.

“It’s very rare and not likely to happen,” said Soldin of serotonin syndrome. “And, you just need to stop taking the drugs when it does happen. If you’re taking these medications and you have strange muscular, mental or hyperactivity symptoms, contact your doctor.”

Not sure if you’re taking a triptan? The seven available are:

  • Imitrex or Imigran (sumatriptan)
  • Maxalt (rizatriptan)
  • Amerge or Naramig (naratriptan)
  • Zomig (zolmitriptan)
  • Relpax (eletriptan)
  • Axert or Almogran (almotriptan)
  • Frova or Migard (frovatriptan)

Read more about serotonin syndrome in these posts:

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Migraine Treatment News

Here’s the roundup of migraine treatments. Other news posts I’m working on are about presentations at the International Headache Society’s conference (including cluster headache news), depression and chronic pain.

Migraine Patients Who Take Triptans Report Greater Satisfaction Than Patients Taking Barbiturates or Opioids
Survey: Migraine Patients Taking Potentially Addictive Barbiturate or Opioid
Medications Not Approved By FDA as Migraine Treatments

The survey found that patients taking triptans are significantly more likely than those taking barbiturates or opioids to report that their medication works well at relieving migraine symptoms, with sixty percent of triptan patients reporting that it describes their medication “extremely” or “very” well to say it relieves their migraines symptoms completely compared with 42 percent of patients taking barbiturates and opioids.

Patients taking opioids and barbiturates for their migraines also reported a lower quality of life than patients taking triptans, according to the survey. Patients taking these drugs were twice as likely as patients on triptans to say that migraines “always” limited their ability to exercise or play sports (35% vs. 14%), engage in sexual activity (33% vs. 17%), drive a car (28% vs. 14%), spend time with family and friends (28% vs. 8%) or simply get out of the house (33% vs. 15%).

Though many patients are prescribed barbiturates and opioids for their migraines, the majority indicated that they prefer their migraine medication to be FDA approved for the disease, not addictive and have few side effects. Seven out of ten patients (72%) surveyed said it’s “extremely” or “very” important that their prescription medications not be addictive, and eight out of ten patients (79%) said it’s “extremely”
or “very” important that their prescription medication have only minor side effects. Sixty-five percent said it’s important that their migraine medication be approved by the FDA to treat the disease.

Frova for Menstrual Migraine
Endo’s Menstrual Migraine Treatment Better Than Placebo in Study

Endo Pharmaceuticals said that its Frova 2.5mg tablets reduced the frequency and severity of difficult-to-treat menstrual migraine in women when used as a six-day preventative regimen.

Predicting Botox ‘s Effectiveness
Cutaneous Allodynia Predicts Response to Botulinum Toxin Type A in Migraine Patients

Botulinum toxin type A has been reported to be effective in preventing migraine attacks in some patients but not in others.

[R]esearchers found that patients with cutaneous allodynia had experienced significant reductions (P <.01) in migraine frequency and number of headache days in response to botulinum toxin type A, whereas patients without cutaneous allodynia had no such improvement in symptoms.

[I]nvestigators concluded that cutaneous allodynia could be used to predict which migraine patients are likely to respond to prophylactic therapy with botulinum toxin.

DHE Relieves Skin Sensitivity (Allodynia)
Migraine With Skin Sensitivity Eased By Older Drug

Dihydroergotamine or DHE, an established drug for migraine, works well even when the attack is accompanied by super-sensitivity to touch or heat and cold, according to researchers.

Many migraine sufferers get relief from the newer drugs known as triptans, but these are less effective when people also have heightened skin sensitivity. This condition, called cutaneous allodynia, makes even a light touch to the face or neck feel painful.

“Unlike triptans, DHE works in the presence of allodynia, any time in the migraine attack,” lead investigator Dr. Stephen D. Silberstein told Reuters Health.

Migraine Preventives
Migraines: Symptoms Disappear With The Right Prevention

According to Greek researchers, migraine sufferers can eliminate symptoms altogether if they take higher doses of anti-migraine medicine for a longer period of time than is now customary. Another team of researchers has found that certain psychopharmaceuticals could serve as a new therapy option for persistent chronic headaches.

“In treating migraines, optimizing the effect of already available agents is at least as important a task as developing new substances.”

I’m a little wary of this article, but wanted you to know about it. Take it with a grain of salt.

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Triptans at a Glance

Anyone who has been diagnosed with migraine without being told about triptans has been done a disservice. In my non-medical opinion, unless a person has an underlying medical condition that would making the medication dangerous, like stroke, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, they should try at least one triptan.

The gold standard migraine abortive, triptans can work like magic for some migraineurs. They don’t work for everyone, but are helpful for many and can abort the migraine entirely before it begins. For others, the effect isn’t miraculous, but the reduction in intensity or severity of their migraines is still significant. It’s also worth noting that a lot of people have to try several different triptans to find the one that works for them.

There are seven different triptans. Imitrex was the first on the market and is the one people are most likely to know about. The others are Amerge, Axert, Frova, Maxalt, Relpax and Zomig. If you can’t keep a pill down, some are available as injections, suppositories and nasal sprays. Remember, though, that even triptans can cause rebound headaches.

To learn more about the drugs and how they work, see WebMD’s terrific article.