Treatment of migraine attacks with sumatriptan

N Engl J Med. 1991 Aug 1;325(5):316-21. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199108013250504.


Background: The headache in migraine attacks may be caused by dilatation of certain cranial arteries or arteriovenous anastomoses, by neurogenic dural plasma extravasation, or by both of these mechanisms. Sumatriptan, a novel selective agonist of 5-hydroxytryptamine-like receptors, blocks these phenomena. We investigated its efficacy in migraine.

Methods: We studied 639 patients with migraine attacks in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group clinical trial. We assessed the effect of subcutaneous injections of 6 or 8 mg of sumatriptan or placebo on the severity of headache and associated migrane symptoms 30, 60, and 120 minutes after treatment. Patients who were not free of pain after 60 minutes subsequently received placebo if they had initially received placebo or 8 mg of sumatriptan, and 6 mg of sumatriptan or placebo if they had initially received 6 mg of sumatriptan.

Results: After 60 minutes, the severity of headache was decreased in 72 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 68 to 76 percent) of the 422 patients given 6 mg of sumatriptan, 79 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 71 to 87 percent) of the 109 patients given 8 mg of sumatriptan, and 25 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 17 to 33 percent) of the 105 patients given placebo (data on 3 patients could not be evaluated). As compared with the placebo group, 47 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 38 to 57 percent) more patients who had received 6 mg of sumatriptan and 54 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 43 to 65 percent) more patients who had received 8 mg of sumatriptan had a decrease in the severity of headache (P less than 0.001 for both comparisons). After 120 minutes, 86 to 92 percent of the 511 patients treated with sumatriptan (202 assigned to 6 mg plus placebo, 203 to 6 mg plus 6 mg, and 106 to 8 mg plus placebo) had improvement in the severity of headache, as compared with only 37 percent of the 104 patients who received placebo once or twice (P less than 0.001 for all comparisons). Twenty-one patients were excluded from the analysis because of missing data (19) or protocol violations (2). The response rates did not differ significantly among the sumatriptan regimens. Adverse events were minor and transient in all groups.

Conclusions: We conclude that a single 6-mg dose of sumatriptan given subcutaneously is a highly effective, rapid-acting, and well-tolerated treatment for migrane attacks. The administration of a second dose 60 minutes later to patients not responding well to an initial dose affords little additional benefit.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indoles / administration & dosage
  • Indoles / adverse effects
  • Indoles / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Serotonin / drug effects*
  • Recurrence
  • Safety
  • Sulfonamides / administration & dosage
  • Sulfonamides / adverse effects
  • Sulfonamides / therapeutic use*
  • Sumatriptan
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / adverse effects
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Indoles
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Sulfonamides
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • Sumatriptan