About Your Nitroglycerin
Learn about how nitroglycerin works, proper storage and dangerous interactions.
You have chest pain and reach into your pocket to take your nitroglycerin tablet. You’re about to place the pill under your tongue, just like your doctor told you. Then you notice that the expiration date has passed. Don’t let this be you. Renewing your prescription for nitro is part of taking care of your heart. It is also important to know how to take nitroglycerin, how to store it and what other drugs to avoid.
What is nitroglycerin?
Nitroglycerin and nitrates are medications that relax and widen blood vessels to improve blood flow. When you take nitroglycerin, more oxygen and nutrient-rich blood is delivered to the heart muscle. This often relieves chest pain. Also, because it relaxes the blood vessels throughout the rest of the body, it cuts the amount of work that the heart has to do to pump blood.
Why do you take nitroglycerin?
Nitroglycerin is used to treat heart disease. It is taken mostly to prevent and treat angina, or chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood. Some people also take nitroglycerin for heart failure.
What are the different forms of nitroglycerin?
There are two main categories of nitroglycerin:
- Fast-acting: Used to treat chest pain.
- Nitroglycerin tablets are dissolved under the tongue or between the cheek and gum.
- Liquid nitroglycerin is delivered as a spray on or under the tongue.
- In some people, these medicines may be recommended to help prevent chest pain before certain activities. Ask your doctor if this is right for you.
- Tell your doctor how often you are using this medicine. There are other medicines and other forms of nitroglycerine that may prevent you from having chest pain or from having to use this medicine too often.
- Long-acting capsules, skin patches or pastes. These are used mostly to prevent chest pain. Each dose usually lasts from several hours to half a day. For patches and pastes, nitroglycerin is gradually absorbed into the body through the skin.
What are the main side effects?
- Headache. Headaches usually go away within the first week of starting your medication. Tell your doctor if the headaches persist or if any one is severe.
- Dizziness. Nitroglycerine can cause a drop in blood pressure. Sit or lie down before taking nitroglycerine. Get up slowly once you are feeling fine.
- Flushing. Wear loose clothing. Try to stay out of the heat when using this medication.
How do I take fast-acting nitroglycerin?
If you take nitroglycerin to relieve chest pain, carry the sublingual tablets or spay medication with you at all times. Take one dose. If there is no effect within 5 minutes, take another dose and call 9-1-1. You might be having a heart attack.
- Immediate release tablets. When you have an attack of angina, place the tablet under your tongue or between your cheek and gum. Let the tablet dissolve. Try not to swallow saliva while the tablet is dissolving.
- Immediate release spray. Do not shake the bottle. Spray the medication close to the top of or under your tongue. Do not swallow or inhale the spray.
Tips to store nitroglycerin safely
- Store all forms of nitroglycerin as directed.
- Keep at room temperature.
- Keep container away from moisture and heat.
- Keep container away from sunlight.
- Keep spray away from open flame.
- Keep the container closed tightly unless you need the medication.
- Store only up-to-date medications. Do not take medication that is past the expiration date. Contact the pharmacy or your doctor if you are nearing the expiration date on the container.
What other drugs interact with nitroglycerin?
Do not use sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) or tadalafil (Cialis), if you use nitroglycerine. They can cause a possible dangerous drop in blood pressure. Tell your doctor about all the other drugs, including vitamins and supplements.
Also, if you use sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), or tadalafil (Cialis), and have chest pain, be sure to let paramedics, nurses and doctors know when you took the last dose.