Triptans may be safe in basilar and hemiplegic migraine

Hemiplegic and basilar migraine are rare types of migraine. Hemiplegic migraine is accompanied by a paralysis of one side of the body. Basilar migraine derives its name from the basilar artery, which supplies blood to the brainstem. Symptoms of brainstem dysfunction (double vision, unsteady gait, vertigo, difficulty speaking) made doctors think that ischemia or lack of blood flow in that artery caused these symptoms. We now know that this is not the case and basilar migraine may be just another form of migraine with aura.

The FDA ruled that sumatriptan (Imitrex), other triptans, and ergotamines (DHE-45, Cafergot) are contraindicated in patients with basilar and hemiplegic migraine because of the unsubstantiated fear that these drugs may cause constriction of blood vessels that might be already constricted resulting in a stroke. There is little evidence that symptoms of hemiplegic and basilar migraine are caused by the constriction of blood vessels. It is most likely due to the dysfunction of the brain cells. In addition, constriction of blood vessels by the triptans is very mild.

A study just published in the journal Headache examined 67 patients with basilar and 13 with hemiplegic migraines who were treated with triptans and dihydroergotamine (DHE-45). None of these patients suffered a stroke or a heart attack.

This is not the first report of the safe use of triptans in the treatment of basilar and hemiplegic migraines. Although the total number of patients reported is small, it appears that triptans and ergots are probably safe in these types of migraines. Some doctors are afraid to prescribe triptans to such patients out of fear of litigation. There is a good chance that the next edition of the classification of headache disorders will no longer include basilar migraine because it is recognized as being just a form of migraine with aura. Ergots and triptans are not contraindicated in migraine with aura.

1 comment
  1. Shannon Lawson says: 04/17/20174:25 pm

    Thank you so very much!! My husband has been suffering so long with these type headaches and had every block, Epidural, ablation, botox even had neck surgery. He now is stuck at a pain Center trying to find any relief. He used imitrex before his first major hemiplegic type with the drooppy face and right side a heaviness and symptoms of tia…with those symptoms they banned all these meds and he’s suffered for so long. Missed 16 months of work and even since attempting to return hes still missed over 3 weeks due to these things. Its constant. We are going to try these again in small amounts and see if we can get relief for him. So tired of seeing him suffer.

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