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Can J Neurol Sci. 2001 Feb;28(1):30-41.

A systematic review of the use of triptans in acute migraine.

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Division of Neurology, Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.



A systematic review of the literature was undertaken, to consolidate evidence concerning the efficacy and safety of triptans currently available in Canada (sumatriptan, rizatriptan, naratriptan, zolmitriptan), and to provide guidelines for selection of a triptan.


Data from published, randomized, placebo-controlled trials were pooled and a combined number needed to treat (NNT) and number needed to harm (NNH) was generated for each triptan. Direct comparative trials of triptans were also examined.


The lowest NNT for headache response/pain-free at one/two hours is observed with subcutaneous sumatriptan. Among the oral formulations, the lowest NNT is observed with rizatriptan and the highest NNT with naratriptan. The lowest NNH is observed with subcutaneous sumatriptan.


Triptans are relatively safe and effective medications for acute migraine attacks. However, differences among them are relatively small. Considerations in selecting a triptan include individual patient response/tolerance, characteristics of the attacks, relief of associated symptoms, consistency of response, headache recurrence, delivery systems and patient preference.

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