Alternative to Imitrex for Headaches

By Demetria Jackson

Imitrex is a prescription drug used to treat migraines and cluster headaches. It is available for home use as a pill or as a nasal spray. As an injection, this drug is given by a healthcare professional or it can be supplied as an autoinjection device to allow the patient to self administer the drug. Imitrex is generally not prescribed to people with cardiovascular conditions or uncontrolled hypertension as it can aggravate such conditions leading to serious adverse effects. Imitrex may cause numbness and tingling, dizziness, palpitations, muscle pain and gastrointestinal symptoms such as pain and diarrhea.

Fast-Acting Alternatives

Fast-acting alternatives typically produce noticeable relief in 15 - 30 minutes after administration. Triptans are the class of drugs to which Imitrex belongs. Zomig in another triptan drug and is administered as a nasal spray. It is typically reserved for use by people who cannot tolerate Imitrex. Octreotide is an injectible treatment for cluster headaches. It is an synthetic form of a hormone found in the human brain, somatostatin, and is a safe alternative to Imitrex for patients with cardiovascular conditions. Administration of supplemental oxygen at a rate of 7 to 10 liters per minute can help alleviate a headache in as soon as 15 minutes. Oxygen requires a prescription and can be obtained from a durable medical supply company. Portable oxygen canisters can be ordered for those who have frequent headaches and may require treatment away from home.

Other Acute Alternatives

Narcotic pain medication may be prescribed for severe, frequently recurring cases. Codeine is one such narcotic. Narcotic pain medications are not considered fast-acting as they take longer to be absorbed than the fast-acting alternatives. These are used with caution as there is the risk of dependency. Lidocaine nasal drops may be used to have a numbing effect and provide headache relief. Migranal, or D.H.E., can be administered as a nasal spray, shot or IV infusion. The nasal spray may be slower in alleviating a headache than the IV infusion. This alternative to Imitrex may cause nausea and/or dizziness. For headaches that are not as severe as cluster headaches, some over the counter preparations, such as Excedrin Migraine, can provide relief.

Long-Term Alternatives

The frequency of some forms of headaches, specifically cluster headaches, may be controlled by long-term medications. Verapamil is commonly prescribed as a drug to control high blood pressure. It is used to treat cluster headaches for the duration of the cluster. It is taken daily and helps to lessen the severity and frequency of headaches. Lithium is prescribed as a preventative therapy for cluster headaches. It is taken daily and the dose is monitored closely to prevent lithium toxicity. Long term use of lithium may lead to the development of tremors, dry mouth and frequent urination.

Non-medical Alternatives

For sufferers of cluster headaches, lifestyle changes during the cluster episode can help reduce frequency and duration of headaches. Avoiding alcoholic beverages, nicotine and smoked and processed meats, which contain nitrites, are changes that help to prevent the onset of a cluster headache. Non-medical alternatives to Imitrex include accupuncture, accupressure and chiropractic treatment. A physician should be consulted before you use a non-medical alternative therapy as there may be other factors that would cause such treatments to be more harmful than good. For example, if there are neck and spinal issues contributing to the headaches, chiropractic manipulation may cause more damage, worsening the intensity of the headaches.

© Demand Media 2011