Triptans are not widely used in clinical practice despite their well-established efficacy, endorsement by the US Headache Consortium, and the demonstrable need to employ effective intervention to reduce migraine-associated disability. Although the relatively restricted use of triptans may be attributed to several factors, research suggests that prescribers' concerns about cardiovascular safety prominently figure in limiting their use.
This article reviews clinical data—including results of clinical trials, postmarketing studies and surveillance, and pharmacodynamic studies—relevant to assessing the cardiovascular safety profile of the triptans.
These data demonstrate that triptans are generally well tolerated. Chest symptoms occurring during use of triptans are usually nonserious and usually not attributed to ischemia. Incidence of triptan-associated serious cardiovascular adverse events in both clinical trials and clinical practice appears to be extremely low. When they do occur, serious cardiovascular events have most often been reported in patients at significant cardiovascular risk or in those with overt cardiovascular disease. Adverse cardiovascular events also have occurred, however, in patients without evidence of cardiovascular disease. Several lines of evidence suggest that nonischemic mechanisms are responsible for sumatriptan-associated chest symptoms, although the mechanism of chest symptoms has not been determined to date. Importantly, most of the clinical trials and clinical practice data on triptans are derived from patients without known cardiovascular disease. Therefore, the conclusions of this review cannot be extended to patients with cardiovascular disease. The cardiovascular safety profile of triptans favors their use in the absence of contraindications.