Triptans for Cluster Headaches

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Triptans for Cluster Headaches


Generic NameBrand Name

The injected form of sumatriptan is used to treat cluster headaches. Self-injection kits are available so that you can give yourself the shot. Nasal and oral sumatriptan are also available.

You can take zolmitriptan as a pill (by mouth) or use it as a nasal spray.

How It Works

Triptans (sometimes referred to as 5-HT-1 receptor agonists) shrink the blood vessels in the brain, which may relieve pain by reducing pressure from inflammation that can occur with cluster headaches. Triptans may also affect certain brain chemicals that regulate pain.

Why It Is Used

These drugs are used to quickly stop cluster headache pain.

How Well It Works

A shot of sumatriptan works very well to stop a cluster headache. When injected soon after a cluster headache starts, sumatriptan can stop headache pain within 15 minutes.1

Nasal and oral sumatriptan and zolmitriptan all work to stop cluster headaches. But they may not work as quickly or as well as a shot of sumatriptan.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Severe chest pain or pressure or a strange feeling in the chest. Some people feel pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Burning, pain, or soreness in the nose (nasal spray).
  • Burning, pain, or redness where the shot was given.
  • Change in the sense of taste (nasal spray).
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or drowsiness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Feeling hot or cold, weak, or "strange" in some way.
  • Muscle aches or cramps.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

It is important that you do not use triptans daily to treat or prevent cluster headaches. Overuse of triptans can cause you to have more headaches when the medicine wears off. These are called rebound headaches. If you feel like you need to use triptans often, talk to your doctor. He or she may have you try a different medicine.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Capobianco DJ, Dodick DW (2006). Diagnosis and treatment of cluster headache. Seminars in Neurology, 26(2): 242–259.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerColin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last RevisedMay 14, 2012

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