Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator, a medicine that opens blood vessels to improve blood flow. It is used to treat angina, a type of 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 nitroglycerin.
Your doctor will prescribe the right amount for you. Do not use another person's nitroglycerin.
Your 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 tongue.
Do not take the erection-enhancing medicine sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis) 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.
Store 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 not working.
Other Works Consulted
- Antman EM, et al. (2004). ACC/AHA guidelines for management of patients with ST-elevation myocardial infarction. Executive summary: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 1999 Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Acute Myocardial Infarction). Circulation, 110(5): 588–636.
- Fraker TD, et al. (2007). 2007 chronic angina focused update of the ACC/AHA 2002 guidelines for the management of patients with chronic stable angina: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines Writing Group. Circulation, 116(23): 2762–2772.
- 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.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||John M. Miller, MD - Electrophysiology|
|Last Revised||April 4, 2011|
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