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What Is Sumatriptan And What Is It Used For?

Migraines have the ability to halt anyone in their tracks. Lucky for us, the advancements of modern medicine have struck again with the development of Sumatriptan tablets. These wonderful pills have the ability to stop your migraine in its tracks.

This detailed guide explores questions such as ‘what is Sumatriptan?’ whilst also covering off how the medication works, the side effects experienced, and how it compares to other industry-leading migraine relief options. Let’s take a look.

What is Sumatriptan?

A migraine feels like an intense, throbbing headache, usually starting on one's forehead, sides of the head, or behind the eyes. Other symptoms include nausea and sensitivity to light.

It's not entirely clear what causes migraines, but they are known to be triggered by periods, stress, tiredness, and certain foods or drinks. Eating, sleeping well and regular exercise can help to reduce the number of migraines you experience, and also diminish the intensity of your symptoms.

You may also need to take migraine relief medication like Sumatriptan if you experience severe and/or frequent migraines. Sumatriptan is taken once the migraine has begun and is used to relieve the symptoms associated with a migraine. Relieving intense headaches, pain, nausea, and other migraine symptoms.

Fast-acting treatments such as Sumatriptan help you to return to your normal routine and may decrease your need for other pain medications.

How does Sumatriptan work?

Sumatriptan is a serotonin receptor agonist commonly used to treat migraines and sometimes cluster headaches. It was first introduced in Europe in 1901 to treat migraines and is thought to be the first of the ‘tripian’ names.

Sumatriptan selectively binds to and activates serotonin 5-HT1D receptors in the central nervous system (CNS), thereby constricting cerebral blood vessels. This may lead to pain relief from vascular headaches by reducing extravasation of plasma proteins, and by decreasing the release of other mediators of inflammation from the trigeminal nerve.

How do I take Sumatriptan?

Due to the nature of Sumatriptan, it is vitally important that you only take the prescribed dose as advised by your doctor or pharmacist or, on the patient information leaflet.

Take this medication by mouth with or without food as directed by your doctor, at the first sign of a migraine. The dosage is based on your medical condition and response to treatment. If there is no improvement in your symptoms, do not take more of this medication before talking to your doctor.

If your symptoms are only partly relieved, or if your headache comes back, you may take another dose at least two hours after the first dose. Do not take more than 200 milligrams in a 24-hour period.

The symptoms of a migraine can sometimes be confused for other types of headaches, but do remember that Sumatriptan is only effective for migraine relief. It is important not to share your tablets with a friend if they think they have these symptoms – they must speak to a pharmacist to see if Sumatriptan is effective for them.

Like all medicines, Sumatriptan tablets have the potential to interact with other medicines, so make sure to tell your pharmacist or GP if you are already on medication to make Sumatriptan safe to take. If you have taken more than you were prescribed and have difficulty breathing, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

Sumatriptan side effects to look out for

Common side effects that Sumatriptan can cause are chest tightness, pain, or pressure that is usually not considered serious. However, these side effects are similar symptoms of a heart attack, which may include pain in the chest, jaw, or left arm, shortness of breath, or unusual sweating.

Get medical help right away if these or other serious side effects occur, including:

  • Fast/irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Severe abdominal pain

Sumatriptan tablets may increase serotonin and rarely cause a very serious condition called serotonin syndrome. The risk increases if you are also taking other drugs that increase serotonin such as antidepressants and certain painkillers, so make sure to inform your pharmacist of all medication that you are taking, including those bought over the counter.

Sumatriptan alternatives: what triptan is best?

With a multitude of triptans on the market, it can be difficult to try and figure out what one works best for you. Here is a quick whistle-stop tour of the triptan family and the pros and cons of the most common drugs.

Sumatriptan has the advantage of coming with the most widely diverse dosage forms and delivery systems ranging from tablets, injections, and nasal sprays.

When taken by injection, sumatriptan has the quickest onset of action providing 70% efficacy. The delivery systems also have the potential to mix so patients can vary between tablets and nasal sprays.

Rizatriptan vs Sumatriptan

Studies have shown that Rizatriptan in an oral form has the quickest onset of action in relation to the other triptans, but it is still much slower than the sumatriptan injection.

Rizatriptan can also come in a melt formulation so it can be more compliant for patients to take. It does however have the highest recurrence rate for migraine headaches.

Zolmatriptan vs Sumatriptan

Like other migraine relief medication, Zolmitriptan can come in several forms including melt formulation. In terms of clinical effectiveness, safety, or onset of action it has nothing to boast about in comparison to the other medications. Equally, the incidence and recurrence of side effects are on par with the other triptans in the class.

Is Sumatriptan a narcotic?

The short answer to this is no. As mentioned previously Sumatriptan belongs to a class of drugs known as triptans, a very important class of medicines used to treat cluster headaches and migraines.


If you feel like you are experiencing symptoms of a migraine, please get in touch today where one of Cloud Pharmacy’s pharmacists will be able to help you online. Following a short consultation to determine whether Sumatriptan is the right medication for you or, if you require an alternative migraine relief medication, we can have your migraine relief medication with you the very next day.

Our consultants are trained to offer advice as to how to reduce the likelihood of migraine attacks in the future by avoiding triggers such as alcohol, certain foods, and even reducing stress.

Matt Jennings MRPharmS