Triptans in migraine: a comparative review of
pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and efficacy

Tfelt-Hansen P, De Vries P, Saxena PR
Department of Neurology,
Glostrup Hospital,
University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Drugs 2000 Dec; 60(6):1259-87


Triptans are a new class of compounds developed for the treatment of migraine attacks. The first of the class, sumatriptan, and the newer triptans (zolmitriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan, eletriptan, almotriptan and frovatriptan) display high agonist activity at mainly the serotonin 5-HT1B and 5-HT1D receptor subtypes. As expected for a class of compounds developed for affinity at a specific receptor, there are minor pharmacodynamic differences between the triptans. Sumatriptan has a low oral bioavailability (14%) and all the newer triptans have an improved oral bioavailability and for one, risatriptan, the rate of absorption is faster. The half-lives of naratriptan, eletriptan and, in particular, frovatriptan (26 to 30h) are longer than that of sumatriptan (2h). These pharmacokinetic improvements of the newer triptans so far seem to have only resulted in minor differences in their efficacy in migraine. Double-blind, randomised clinical trials (RCTs) comparing the different triptans and triptans with other medication should ideally be the basis for judging their place in migraine therapy. In only 15 of the 83 reported RCTs were 2 triptans compared, and in 11 trials triptans were compared with other drugs. Therefore, in all placebo-controlled randomised clinical trials, the relative efficacy of the triptans was also judged by calculating the therapeutic gain (i.e. percentage response for active minus percentage response for placebo). The mean therapeutic gain with subcutaneous sumatriptan 6mg (51%) was more than that for all other dosage forms of triptans (oral sumatriptan 100mg 32%; oral sumatriptan 50mg 29%: intranasal sumatriptan 20mg 30%; rectal sumatriptan 25mg 31%; oral zolmitriptan 2.5mg 32%; oral rizatriptan 10mg 37%; oral eletriptan 40mg 37%; oral almotriptan 12.5mg 26%). Compared with oral sumatriptan 100mg (32%), the mean therapeutic gain was higher with oral eletriptan 80mg (42%) but lower with oral naratriptan 2.5mg (22%) or oral frovatriptan 2.5mg (16%). The few direct comparative randomised clinical trials with oral triptans reveal the same picture. Recurrence of headache within 24 hours after an initial successful response occurs in 30 to 40% of sumatriptan-treated patients. Apart from naratriptan, which has a tendency towards less recurrence, there appears to be no consistent difference in recurrence rates between the newer triptans and sumatriptan. Rizatriptan with its shorter time to maximum concentration (tmax) tended to produce a quicker onset of headache relief than sumatriptan and zolmitriptan. The place of triptans compared with non-triptan drugs in migraine therapy remains to be established and further RCTs are required.
Migraine prophylaxis
Triptans for migraine

and further reading

Future Opioids
BLTC Research
Utopian Surgery?
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World

The Good Drug Guide
The Good Drug Guide

The Responsible Parent's Guide
To Healthy Mood Boosters For All The Family