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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Disease and Nitrates

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Nitrates are vasodilators that are used to treat angina in people with coronary artery disease or chest pain caused by blocked blood vessels of the heart. They work to control angina by relaxing the coronary arteries so blood can flow more easily to the heart.

Nitrates also can be used with another blood pressuremedication (hydralazine) to treat congestive heart failure. Vasodilators include:

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Can you drink if you have heart disease? Moderate drinking should be OK, if your doctor approves, but you shouldn't count on alcohol to be a major part of your heart health plan. "If you don’t drink alcohol now, there is no reason to start,” says Mark Urman, MD, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. It's true that there have been studies linking drinking small amounts of alcohol -- no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women -- to better heart health...

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How Should I Take Nitrates?

Follow the label directions on when and how to take nitrates. Take these drugs with or without meals. Medication tolerance can develop with these medications; this leads to their ineffectiveness. Talk with your doctor so you understand how to take these medications during the day. The number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and how long you need to take the medications will depend on your condition.

While taking these drugs, have your blood pressure checked regularly, as advised by your doctor.

Keep all appointments with your doctor and the laboratory so that your response to the drug can be monitored.

What Are the Side Effects of Nitrates?

Nitrates may cause dizziness. Other side effects of nitrates include:

  • Headache; rapid, irregular, or pounding heartbeat; this is very common with continuous use but resolves after the first few weeks of treatment. If they persist, contact your doctor or nurse.
  • Flushing of the face or neck. Contact your doctor or nurse if these side effects are persistent or severe.
  • Low blood pressure.

You should not take these medications if you:

  • Have severe allergic reactions to medications containing nitroglycerin or isosorbide in the past
  • Take a phosphodiesterase inhibitors such as Viagra (sildenafil), Levitra (vardenafil), or Cialis (tadalafil)
  • Have narrow-angle glaucoma

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on October 12, 2015
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