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Nitrates for Heart Attack and Unstable Angina

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
nitroglycerin Nitro-Dur, Nitrolingual, Nitrostat

How It Works

Nitrates open up (dilate) the arteries to the heart, increasing blood flow, relieving chest pain (angina), and reducing the heart's workload.

Why It Is Used

For a heart attack. Nitroglycerin may be used to treat a heart attack, because it can help increase blood flow through the coronary arteries to the heart.

For angina. Nitrates prevent and relieve angina. They may be used:

  • During angina attacks.
  • Before stressful activities that can cause angina (such as having sexual intercourse or walking up stairs or a hill).
  • Over the long term to prevent angina that occurs during daily activities.

How Well It Works

During a heart attack, nitroglycerin may help blood to flow through the coronary arteries to the heart.

For angina, nitrates can quickly relieve the symptoms such as pain or discomfort.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor right away if you have:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Headache.
  • Flushing, or feeling warm, in the face and neck.
  • Nausea.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Nitroglycerin can help you manage symptoms of angina. Nitroglycerin for angina is taken as a pill or a liquid spray. Skin patches or paste are also available to prevent angina. For more information, see:

Using Nitroglycerin for Angina

Do not take an erection-enhancing medicine such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or vardenafil (Levitra) if you are taking a nitrate. Combining a nitrate with one of these drugs can cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
Current as of March 12, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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