Triptans are the first line migraine drugs in pregnant women

Pregnant women are admonished not to take any medications while pregnant. Fortunately, two out of three women stop having migraines during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimester. Unfortunately, one third of women continue having migraines and in some they get worse. Tylenol (acetaminophen), which is deemed to be the safest pain medicine in pregnancy is also the weakest pain killer and does nothing to relieve the agony of a migraine attack. Many obstetricians say that they are also “comfortable” giving drugs containing butalbital (a barbiturate) and caffeine along with acetaminophen (Fioricet) because these drugs have been around for many years. However, barbiturates are really not good for the developing brain while regular intake of caffeine can cause worsening of migraine headaches. Narcotic (opioid) analgesics are not exactly healthy either. Not taking any medications is also harmful to the mother and the fetus because severe pain causes serious distress to both and vomiting, which often accompanies migraines, can cause dehydration. Not treating migraine attacks may also lead to chronic migraines with pain present continuously. So, what is a pregnant woman to do?
At the recent annual meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists several doctors expressed their preference for the use of triptans in pregnant women. Sumatriptan (Imitrex) was first introduced 20 years ago and a registry of women who took sumatriptan during pregnancy suggests that this is a safe drug. Pregnancy registry for rizatriptan (Maxalt), which is the second triptan to come to the market 15 years ago, also suggests that it is a safe drug. Of course, it cannot be said that these drugs are proven to be safe for pregnant women because some yet undetected risk may still be present. However, compared to the alternatives and considering that triptans are much more effective, it is logical to recommend their use in pregnancy.
Besides treating an acute attack with triptans we always recommend preventive measures, such as magnesium supplementation (400 mg, on top of what is in a prenatal vitamin, which is usually only 100 mg), biofeedback, regular sleep, and exercise.
Preventive drugs that can cause major problems in the fetus and are contraindicated in pregnancy include divalproex (Depakote) and topiramate (Topamax). On the other hand, Botox is probably a safe preventive treatment in pregnant women suffering from chronic migraine headaches.

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1 comment
  1. Elena Dcruzz says: 02/16/20187:52 am

    I had headaches with my first and took tylenol (well percosset actually). Then with my second, a friend told me that her midwife recommended drinking electrolyte water as a potential mitigator. I have no idea whether there is evidenced-based research to support that as a solution, or whether it was a placebo effect, but it totally worked and I only got one or two headaches the whole pregnancy and no percosset. Now with my third, 13 weeks in and no headaches… ?

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