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Sumatriptan vs Rizatriptan: How Do the Two Migraine Drugs Stack Up

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Article reviewed and updated December 2020

There are many different migraine relief treatments on the market, but knowing which option is best for alleviating the crippling pain of your migraines can be tricky. Let’s take a closer look at two of the more popular migraine relief tablets, Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan.

How Do Triptans Work?

Although the cause is not fully understood, it is thought that migraine symptoms are caused when the blood vessels in the brain widen.

Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan are both in the ‘triptan’ or 5HT1 class of drugs, used in the treatment of acute migraine attacks and cluster headaches[i]. 5HT1 medicines stimulate the receptors of serotonin in the brain, causing blood vessels to narrow and pain to subside. More specifically, this narrowing blocks the transmission of pain via the sensory nerves supplying the skin and structures of the face.

Sumatriptan vs Rizatriptan

What is Sumatriptan?

Sumatriptan is a specific migraine medication and has been available for many years – first in its branded form as Imigran and more recently as a generic medication. Sumatriptan is available to migraine sufferers in various forms, including tablets, dispersible tablets, nasal sprays and injections.

What is Rizatriptan?

Much like Sumatriptan, Rizatriptan has been available via prescription to migraine sufferers for many years in its branded form – Maxalt. As both a branded and generic product, Rizatriptan can be prescribed in tablet and dispersible form, with the Maxalt Melt wafer designed to simply dissolve on the tongue. These Rizatriptan melts are particularly suited to those who struggle to swallow medication in tablet form.

How Long Do Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan Take To Work?

Not surprisingly, the most common questions asked by migraine sufferers looking for medication are "How long does Sumatriptan take to work?" or "How long does Sumatriptan last?".

For anyone who has suffered from the debilitating effects of migraines, you will know that fast and effective treatment is crucial. And so it is important to assess not only how triptan medications work but also which one achieves results quickly.

Pain relief is typically faster with Rizatriptan than Sumatriptan. When taken in tablet form, a 10mg Rizatriptan dosage can be expected to take effect in as little as 30 minutes. The Sumatriptan dosage is significantly higher at 100mg, typically taking nearer to an hour to offer effective relief from migraine symptoms. Sumatriptan results peak between two and four hours after ingestion.

In roughly 80% of patients, both medications significantly reduce pain within two hours.

How To Take Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan

Both Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan should only be taken once the symptoms of migraine appear, and should not be used as a preventative measure against migraines.

What Are The Side Effects Of Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan?

Both Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan can cause similar side effects. The most commonly reported Sumatriptan side effects and Rizatriptan side effects are:

  • mild headache (not a migraine)
  • dry mouth
  • mild nausea
  • pressure or heavy feeling in any part of your body
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • tired feeling
  • redness or mild tingling under the skin.[i]

Should a migraine sufferer experience any other side effects after taking either of these medications, such as swelling of the face or lips, tightness of the chest or any blue tinges to the skin, it is important to stop taking the tablets and seek medical attention immediately.

How Effective Are Rizatriptan and Sumatriptan?

Patient reviews state that both drugs are effective at relieving the symptoms of migraine. However, Rizatriptan is regarded as a faster-acting drug that achieves longer-lasting results.

Express Pharmacy's Head Pharmacist, Daman Bhamra, says: “Migraines are painful and debilitating for anyone, but some will suffer more than others. For those who find no relief from traditional painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, there are other treatments out there that are very effective.

“Both Sumatriptan and Rizatriptan are migraine-specific treatments and are extremely effective at eliminating the symptoms of migraine. The treatments work most effectively when taken early, so it is recommended to have the medicine in your home ready for an attack; if you are a known sufferer of migraines.

“However, it’s important to remember that these medications only ease the symptoms, they do not treat the underlying cause of the migraine. If you are worried about any headaches you’ve been experiencing, or if they are new for you and accompanied by vomiting, changes to your vision or other suspicious symptoms, our pharmacists are able to offer helpful advice.”

How Much Do These Migraine Treatments Cost?

Both migraine relief tablets are reasonably affordable and available to purchase online for quick relief.

  • Prices for Rizatriptan start from around £11 for 3 tablets of 5mg through Express Pharmacy (prices vary depending on quantity and dosage)
  • Sumatriptan 50mg starts at around £15 for 6 tablets
  • Branded Sumatriptan (Imigran) is also offered as a migraine nasal spray through Express Pharmacy, costing £27 for two 10mg sprays.

To Summarise

Recommended Dosage Time to Take Effect Average Price
Sumatriptan 100mg 1 hour £15 (6 tablets)
Rizatriptan 5-10mg 30 mins £11 (3 tablets)

If you want to find out more about which migraine treatment might be best for you, talk to one of our qualified pharmacists today, on 0208 123 0703.

[i] https://www.migrainetrust.org/living-with-migraine/treatments/acute-medicines/

[i] https://patient.info/medicine/sumatriptan-for-migraine-and-cluster-headaches-imigran