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Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Using Nitroglycerin for Angina
Nitroglycerin is a
vasodilator, a medicine that opens blood vessels to improve blood flow. It is
used to treat
angina symptoms, such as chest pain or discomfort that happens when there
is not enough blood flowing to the heart. To improve blood flow to the heart,
nitroglycerin opens up (dilates) the arteries in the heart (coronary arteries), which improves symptoms and
reduces how hard the heart has to work.
Nitroglycerin comes in
quick-acting forms and long-acting forms.
Quick-acting forms of
nitroglycerin are used to relieve angina or used just before
activities that typically cause angina. The quick-acting forms include
tablets or oral sprays. The tablets are placed under the tongue (sublingual) or
between the cheek and gum (buccal). The spray is used on or under the tongue.
This topic covers these quick-acting forms of nitroglycerin.
Long-acting forms of nitroglycerin are used to prevent angina from
happening. They are not used to stop sudden symptoms of angina. These long-acting forms
include pills, tablets, skin ointment, and skin patches. This topic does
not cover these long-acting forms of
Your doctor will prescribe the right amount for you.
Do not use another person's nitroglycerin.
doctor will advise you when to use your nitroglycerin. In general, quick-acting
nitroglycerin is used:
Normal, temporary side effects of
nitroglycerin include a warm or flushed feeling, headache, dizziness, or
lightheadedness. You may also feel a burning sensation under your
Do not take the erection-enhancing medicine sildenafil
(Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or vardenafil (Levitra) if you are taking
nitroglycerin. Combining nitroglycerin with any of these medicines can cause a
life-threatening drop in blood pressure. If you develop chest pain and have
taken one of these erection-enhancing medicines, be sure to tell your doctor so
that you are not given nitroglycerin or another nitrate medicine.
Do not take the
pulmonary hypertension medicine sildenafil (Revatio)
if you are taking nitroglycerin or another nitrate medicine.
nitroglycerin pills in a dark-colored (such as brown), airtight, glass
container that you cannot see through. Keep the container tightly closed. Keep
nitroglycerin pills and liquid spray away from heat or moisture.
Nitroglycerin can get old. And when it is old, it may not work. If your
nitroglycerin supply is past its expiration date, get a new prescription as
soon as possible. Keep your nitroglycerin in the container it came in and
tightly closed. Do not open your sublingual nitroglycerin until you need a
dose. Replace your tablets every 3 to 6 months. A nitroglycerin spray may last
up to 2 years before it expires.
You may get a headache when you
use nitroglycerin. Or you may feel burning or tingling under your tongue with
nitroglycerin that is used under the tongue. But if you don't have a headache
or feel burning or tingling under your tongue, it does not mean the medicine is
Other Works Consulted
O'Connor RE, et al. (2010). Acute coronary syndromes: 2010 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation, 122(18): S787–S817.
O'Gara PT, et al. (2013). 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of
ST-elevation myocardial infarction: Executive summary. A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American
Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 127(4): e362–e425.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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