Identifying the patient for whom triptans are contraindicated because of recognized, diagnosed cardiovascular disease is relatively straightforward. Determining whether a patient with potential unrecognized cardiovascular disease is an appropriate candidate for triptan therapy, however, constitutes a difficult challenge, especially in the absence of a framework for workup of patients.
This article discusses the pathophysiology of coronary heart disease and issues involved in assessing cardiovascular risk, and it attempts to provide a framework for cardiovascular risk assessment that can be applied to decisions for prescribing triptans. Current guidelines for cardiovascular risk assessment allow stratification of patients to low, intermediate, or high risk of coronary heart disease events. This framework for risk assessment can be applied to decisions for prescribing triptans. Cardiovascular risk-assessment algorithms discussed elsewhere in this supplement suggest that patients at low risk (1 or no risk factors) of coronary heart disease can be prescribed triptans without the need for a more intensive cardiovascular evaluation. Conversely, patients with established coronary heart disease or coronary heart disease risk equivalents should not be prescribed triptans according to the current prescribing recommendations. Patients at intermediate risk (2 or more risk factors) of coronary heart disease require cardiovascular evaluation before triptans can be prescribed. Current understanding suggests that the risk of future acute coronary events is a function of the absolute number of vulnerable plaques present, a variable that cannot be accurately determined using available technology or risk-prediction models. Cardiovascular risk-assessment guidelines should be evaluated in the context of this limitation.