A cardiologist’s advice on how to use this “wonder drug”

19 Aug

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

pillboxThe heart drug called nitroglycerin was once described like this in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation:

“Newer drugs quickly replace older remedies. This has not been the case with nitroglycerin, now in continuous medical use for more than a century.

“Although other applications for it have been found in cardiology, nitroglycerin is the mainstay for affording rapid, indeed almost immediate, pain relief for angina pectoris.

“At a time when the cost of pharmaceuticals is growing out of reach for many, nitroglycerin is still obtainable for pennies and remains one of the best buys in medicine.”    

My little canister of nitro spray is indeed one of my closest companions. Since surviving a heart attack in 2008, and particularly since being further diagnosed with debilitating coronary microvascular disease, I would never even dream of setting foot out the door without my quick-acting nitro tucked into my little green pocket wallet with me.  Nitroglycerin (or nitroglycerine, glyceryl trinitrate, or GTN) comes in either short- or long-acting forms:  spray, pills, skin ointment or transdermal patch, and as the AHA journal reminds us, it’s still one of the least expensive – and most immediately effective – of all my cardiac meds.

In cardiologist Dr. Bernard Lown‘s comprehensive article about nitroglycerin, he explains: (1)

Angina pectoris is a discomfort behind the breastbone caused by a temporary inadequacy of blood flow to the heart muscle. It is not a heart attack. There is no heart damage. Many patients have had thousands of such episodes and live full and active lives reaching a ripe old age.

Nitroglycerin is a wonder drug. When it is taken properly  – positive drug action is hastened by sitting, leaning forward, inhaling deeply, and bearing down as if for a bowel movement – it can help patients with angina achieve the goal of a pain-free life with little or no limitations.

“When you take nitroglycerin, your heart is able to do much more work without developing angina. It is common to see patients with angina return to full activity, largely because they have mastered the proper use of nitroglycerin.

“No matter how often you use it, it will consistently continue to work. It can help in the following circumstances:

  • Brisk walking
  • Cold, windy weather
  • Exertion
  • After a heavy meal
  • Working under the pressure of a deadline
  • Speaking in public
  • During sexual intercourse
  • During worry, tension or anger

Nitroglycerin is truly a wonder drug. It dilates coronary arteries and decreases the workload of the heart, two factors responsible for the discomfort.

Yet many anginal patients use the drug only sparingly, if at all.

“Early in my medical practice some 60 years ago, I was dismayed to learn that a majority of my angina patients did not take nitroglycerin despite my careful counseling. They failed to use it preventively – or even with chest discomfort.

“In many conversations, I learned that patients had to overcome a number of psychological hurdles about taking nitroglycerin. These included:

  • an uncertainty about when exactly to take it
  • a hope that an episode would rapidly abate spontaneously
  • the fear of a throbbing headache (reported in over 2/3 of patients)
  • anxiety that if nitro worked, it was proof of a cardiac problem
  • an unwillingness to acknowledge having a heart condition that could cripple or kill
  • an unreadiness to become dependent on or habituated to drugs”

As a heart patient with ongoing bouts of chest pain who’s had an up-close and personal relationship with my nitro spray, I understand each of these factors, including nitroglycerin’s dreaded Rule Of Three.  Here’s how it works:

  • Sit or lie down to take your nitroglycerin (as directed in Dr. Lown’s instructions: sit down, lean forward, inhale deeply, and bear down as if for a bowel movement). If you are driving, pull over and park the car. Taking nitroglycerin can lower your blood pressure, which could cause you to pass out if you are standing up. Take the first dose of nitro when you start having serious chest pain, and wait five minute to see if the symptoms start to decrease.

  • If not, take a second dose (as above). Wait another five minutes.

  • If your pain persists, take a third dose – but you’d better be calling 911 at the same time. 

This advice means that anytime a heart patient suffering alarming cardiac symptoms decides to take even that first dose, it’s with the  knowledge (and fear) that today just might be the awful day you have to go back to hospital with a heart attack – or worse. 

Dr. Lown was absolutely right! Over the past few years, in fact, I’ve spent countless hours foolishly suffering needlessly while trying to postpone that first nitro dose for just this reason: pure, unadulterated, frightened denial.

Yet as Dr. Lown advises, nitroglycerin is most helpful when taken at the first onset of chest discomfort – rather than after it has been present for several minutes.

For most patients living with regular angina symptoms, I have this advice based on Dr. Lown’s work:

“Nitro is your friend!”

Like many other angina patients I know, I’ve also had the experience of carefully weighing which kind of pain feels worse: my alarming chest pain, or nitro’s famous “nitro headache” side effect as it dilates the body’s blood vessels (including those in the head). 

That’s why I liked Dr. Lown’s story of the advice he used to give his own patients living with angina after he guessed why they were so reluctant to take nitroglycerin (he talks about nitro pills, but it’s equally true for nitro spray):

“Listening carefully to dribs and drabs of stories from patients, I imagined the reality. It led to a drastic change in how I prescribed nitroglycerin. I started telling them:

“This small pill dissolves almost instantly. When it does, you have a tingling sensation under the tongue. You may experience a nice fullness and a very nice throbbing sensation in the head. These are due to a rush of blood confirming that your heart, like your head, is receiving more sorely needed oxygen.

“As a dividend you also get more oxygen delivered to your brain; most of us can profit from a little clearer thinking!”

After I read that story last year, I decided to follow Dr. Lown’s sneaky advice.

With the very next spray of required nitro, I began slowly breathing mindfully, waiting for that “nice fullness and a very nice throbbing sensation” in my head as I visualized the nitro dilating my reluctant blood vessels, imagining that lovely “rush of sorely needed oxygen” being delivered to my needy heart muscle and my brain.

It’s still a headache, don’t get me wrong. But now it’s a “nice” ache for a very good cause. I’ve also found that it helps to take a Tylenol 10-15 minutes before taking nitro. Note: The Food and Drug Administration sets the maximum acetaminophen (Tylenol) limit for adults at 4,000 milligrams per day. 

Before using a nitro spray for the first time, spray the pump into the air once or twice, away from yourself, others, or open flame. This is known as priming the pump. If you have not used this medication for six weeks or more, you’ll need to prime it again before use. Do not shake the container!

Dr. Lown still likes to quotes his teacher and mentor Dr. Sam Levine, who maintained that the free use of nitroglycerin enables patients with angina to outlive their doctors.(2)

And he also reminds us:

Taken early, nitro protects the heart from possible injury. When chest discomfort is promptly relieved, there is no need to interrupt activities – except perhaps to slow their tempo. Better still is to take a pill in anticipation of discomfort. Under such circumstances of increased exertion, excitement, or anxiety, it may be worthwhile to take nitroglycerin preventively, thereby preventing angina’s very occurrence.”

Taking nitro in anticipation of chest discomfort is also what I heard about recently from another heart patient living with debilitating bouts of angina. She also happens to be an elite tennis player who plays almost daily. She has learned firsthand the benefits of preventive nitro therapy.  For example, before and again halfway through each tennis game, she sits down next to the court, takes a shot of nitro spray, waits five minutes and then starts playing. By doing this, she’s able to keep up her daily tennis games.

According to Dr. Lown, nitroglycerin is not habit-forming, as it is neither a narcotic nor a pain-killer. Nitro can be taken a number of times throughout any given day as needed (as I’ve experienced on particularly bad days) or by wearing a longer-acting transdermal nitro patch.

While many heart patients know and love nitro as an effective vasodilator to treat severe chest pain symptoms or heart failure, nitroglycerin has also been used since the 1860s as an active ingredient in the manufacture of explosives, most notably dynamite, patented in 1867 by the famous scientist, Alfred Nobel.(3)

British physician Dr. William Murrell began treating his heart patients with small diluted doses of nitroglycerin in 1878 to replace the previous angina treatment called amyl nitrite (which worked well, but carried truly dreadful side effects).  Angina relief with nitro was adopted into widespread use by physicians after Dr. Murrell published a study on it in the journal The Lancet in 1879.

Dr. Billy Goldberg is a New York emergency physician and the co-author (with Mark Leyner) of two fascinating books about health trivia. He explains that the medicinal dose of nitroglycerin in our heart medication is infinitesimal compared with the amount in a stick of dynamite. And it’s also highly diluted for safe handling.

Ironically, many years later, Alfred Nobel – the scientist who had first used nitro in the dynamite his company patented – was prescribed nitroglycerin for his own chronic angina pain.

A few months before his death in 1896, Nobel wrote to a friend:

“Isn’t it the irony of fate that I have been prescribed nitroglycerin to be taken internally? They call it Trinitrin, so as not to scare the chemist and the public.”

IMPORTANT: This post should not be interpreted as medical advice. See your own physician for more information about chronic angina or nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin is not recommended for certain patients – find out if you’re among this group.

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about the important topics of addressing angina pain in my new book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University, November 2017).

Bernard Lown
(1) Dr. Bernard Lown, author of The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine, is the co-founder of the medical organization called International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was awarded the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. He’s also known as a pioneer in research on sudden cardiac death. Dr. Lown developed the direct current defibrillator for resuscitating the arrested heart, as well as the cardioverter for correcting disordered heart rhythms.  I’m a big fan of Dr. Lown’s work and his writing (see my previous articles about him here, here and here). But he’s first and foremost a cardiologist who’s been practicing medicine for over 60 years.
(2) Dr. Sam Levine is the same doctor who first observed that many patients suffering in mid-heart attack will hold a clenched right fist over the chest to describe their cardiac symptoms. This distinctively common reaction is now known by physicians as Levine’s Sign.
(3) Marsh N. Marsh A. “A Short History Of Nitroglycerine And Nitric Oxide In Pharmacology And Physiology.” Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology. Volume 27, Issue 4. p313–319, April 2000. DOI: 10.1046/j.1440-1681.2000.03240.x


Q:  Do you tend to delay taking your nitro for angina?



180 Responses to “A cardiologist’s advice on how to use this “wonder drug””

  1. Janet Whiting February 14, 2019 at 12:49 pm #

    I’ve hesitated using my gtn spray as I wasn’t sure how it works.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas February 15, 2019 at 6:37 am #

      Janet, nitroglycerin (gtn) is your friend! ♥


      • Aidan Heckerman February 19, 2019 at 10:09 pm #

        Hello Carolyn, I don’t know how to make a original comment and not reply to some else’s post so i hope this doesn’t conflict with anything …but I think I might have angina, I haven’t gone to the doctor yet but I’m planning later this week, I’ve been experiencing pain since probably 7 or 8, and the pain suddenly arises when i take a normal breath and i have to hold it so it can pass, I’m 16 going on 17 now and I’m getting really bad flare ups where the pain travels to my neck jaw back and my left arm mostly sometimes right, would i be a good candidate for nitroglycerin or is it just stress or anything else?


        • Carolyn Thomas February 20, 2019 at 1:51 pm #

          Hello Aidan – I’m not a physician so can’t comment specifically on your symptoms. Only your physician can help you to solve this mystery. I can say very generally that it would be highly unusual for a person your age to be experiencing angina symptoms – not impossible, just rare. The other good news is that about 85% of all chest pain admissions to hospital turn out to be NOT heart-related at all. Still, something is causing your symptoms – you just don’t quite know what that is yet. Here’s a list of some of the possible causes of these symptoms.
          Best of luck to you this week at your doctor’s.


    • dannybloom February 27, 2019 at 12:45 am #

      I’m having agina pains now in Taiwan age 70. Stent in my heart from 2009 heart attack in Taiwan. Question. Re o.6 nitro pills I just took 3 in movie theater. Feel fine now. 4 pm. If more pains come today, can I take 3 more little white pills. ? What is max amount in one day? Just 3 per 15 minutes or 6 okay or 9? Also my blood pressure today is 128/87. But another number below the reading said 96. The pharmacist told me 90 is normal. Is 96 dangerous and what does it stand for,? Blood vessel problems,,? Help. Danny bloom retired reporter cli-fi.net


      • Carolyn Thomas February 28, 2019 at 5:40 pm #

        Hi Danny – I’m not a physician so cannot comment specifically on your experience. Please contact your physician, especially to review your blood pressure numbers.


  2. A J Wrigglesworth December 31, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

    I was diagnosed with CHF (congestive heart failure) back in 2014 along with COPD. In Feb 2018 my COPD diagnosis was rescinded by a specialist who deals with lung and spine ailments. Referred to a Rheumatic specialist who, with 4 yrs of X-rays and Cat-scan, determined I have advanced Ankylosing Spondylitis (fusing of the spine) where my rib cage is basically fixed with little to no expansion. A.S. in its advanced stage causes heart problems which takes me back to my CHF.

    If it wasn’t for the Nitro spray, which I have now taken regularly almost on a daily basis, I believe I would be taking a lot more meds than I would like. Yes, this little bottle of nitro does the trick for me, especially in the cold climate of Northern Ontario where I live, never leave home without it. I’m not at the stage of having to wear a patch yet, but I won’t mind if I have to.

    I used to be one of those who would not take my nitro till the last moment, but after reading this article at the beginning of 2018 I have made a habit of being proactive with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas January 1, 2019 at 10:35 am #

      So glad you found this article a year ago, AJ! You bring up such an important point: the fear we sometimes have about taking nitro at the first hint of symptom. Instead we try to suffer through – while the remedy for our suffering is right beside us! Best of luck to you in 2019…


      • A J Wrigglesworth January 1, 2019 at 10:57 am #

        The best to you in 2019

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Terry December 9, 2018 at 5:09 am #

    I was delaying using it but I now will use it asap with the onset of my pain

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 9, 2018 at 7:57 am #

      That’s what it’s there for, right? Nitro is your friend!


      • Alexander Montes December 23, 2018 at 10:36 pm #

        I was worried that I was going to die soon because I have to take Nitro almost every day, but after reading your article, I have found peace and am no longer afraid.

        Nitro is my friend, Thank you so much.


  4. Mary Behill November 22, 2018 at 8:14 pm #

    This article was very helpful to me but i still didn’t understand how many times i can take the nitro pills.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas November 22, 2018 at 10:11 pm #

      Hi Mary – apparently Dr. Lown gives an example of a patient who took 5 doses per day for 30 years, never another angina attack. Personally, I have occasionally had the odd day like that, but never that many doses every day. The ‘rule of 3’ for each specific episode of angina is explained in this post. Some people with more frequent angina episodes every day should discuss the possibility of wearing a nitro patch with their physician.


  5. Carol McGuire September 21, 2018 at 4:57 pm #

    Very informative. I have been prescribed nitro but just had a stent put in my heart artery. I’m not sure if I can still use it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas September 21, 2018 at 5:07 pm #

      Hello Carol – it’s always a good idea to double-check with your own doctor first, but I can tell you generally that many of us have stents and use nitro regularly to help manage angina symptoms.


      • Peter Bergs October 22, 2018 at 11:28 pm #

        Does anyone else get angina like symptoms (indigestion , nausea) delayed after physical exertion? Especially on a hot day.
        I’m talking half an hour or so after. (1 MI , 1 stent 15 years ago)
        Nitro spray seems to relieve the awful nausea. Thanks

        Liked by 1 person

        • Carolyn Thomas October 23, 2018 at 8:36 pm #

          I’m not a physician, Peter, but I can tell you generally that there is indeed something known as exercise heartburn, as you describe. Lots of potential remedies for this available online, e.g. here.

          If these tips don’t help, see your GP…


  6. Brenda Whitley August 26, 2018 at 5:31 am #

    Hi Carolyn

    Any advice on radium treatment effects on heart or stents? I am due to start radium for breast cancer in the next few weeks and am worried as my lumpectomy was on left side of the right breast. I have had 4 stents successfully over the past 7 years and do take a nitro spray, as Dr Lown’s excellent advice. I did ask the cancer surgeon and he laughed and said as the heart is on your left side it’s not likely. Hes a lovely man and a great doctor and I have great faith in him, so I am just asking if you know of anything I ought to know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 26, 2018 at 6:41 am #

      Hello Brenda – I’m not a physician so cannot comment specifically on your own situation, but I do know that most research that does conclude a link between breast cancer treatments and higher risk for heart disease suggest that the risks are higher when it’s the left breast being treated (same side as the heart) and dependent on the exposure to radiation in the treatment. There is an entire new field of medicine known as cardio-oncology whose specialists focus specifically on this link. I haven’t been able to find data on right breast radiation risks in a patient already living with heart disease, so perhaps your cardiologist is correct (although I do wish doctors wouldn’t “laugh” at our perfectly reasonable questions about a very frightening diagnosis!)

      Best of luck to you in your further treatment…


  7. Chris McIntyre August 22, 2018 at 3:07 pm #

    Came out of hospital today after my recent first heart attack, been given nitro spray and I’m one of the many who are really anxious about when I should use it, and hoping I really don’t need to, feeling a bit better now I’ve read your article, thank you very much. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 23, 2018 at 2:35 pm #

      Hi Chris! Just barely home from the hospital! Take it easy during the next week or two as you get your brain wrapped around what has just happened… It’s not uncommon in the early days to have some ‘stretching pain’ in your chest following a stent, so don’t be alarmed if you feel that. It’s likely just your body adjusting to and healing from the procedure. As time goes by, if you do experience some chest pain (angina), remember that nitro is your friend. That’s what it’s there for.

      Everything seems so new to you right now. But you’ve taken a good first step just by sitting down to find more info (and finding this blog). You might find this 4-part series for the freshly-diagnosed heart patient helpful. Your only job right now is to very gradually become the world expert in your diagnosis! Best of luck to you…


  8. Lillie August 21, 2018 at 4:47 pm #

    This article gave me much peace and pain relief in the process. Thank you so very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 21, 2018 at 8:28 pm #

      You are so welcome, Lillie. Glad you enjoyed this post – Dr. Lown’s clear explanations are so important for us to know!


  9. Jerre L Wynn August 7, 2018 at 8:06 pm #

    I’m very glad that I read this article. My husband had Nitro pills prescribed after open heart surgery. We realize we haven’t been using it to get the full benefits.

    Thank you for the correct information.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jim July 8, 2018 at 12:50 pm #

    Thank you for this. It is the best, most reassuring advice on the web.

    I was diagnosed with angina on Friday and have been afraid to take Nitro in case it might do damage if I don’t really need it. Today I walked up a hill and an hour later I’m still light-headed, my breathing is a little labored. Blood pressure is up in the 150’s, even though I took my daily meds only a few hours ago.

    So I just used the spray once and wouldn’t you believe it, my breathing is a little better and I feel less sweaty and tense. I guess it takes awhile to know how much is placebo effect and how much is real. But this sense of relief feels very real and it is wonderfully reassuring to feel good.

    From now on, I’ll use the spray once before I go out walking as it will do no damage but seems to have a positive result. I don’t get headaches from it so far, just a slight discomfort but hardly noticeable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas July 8, 2018 at 1:57 pm #

      You made my day, Jim! I love it when heart patients take Dr. Lown’s advice and (surprise, surprise!) it works! As you get more experience in taking your nitro, you’ll have an even better sense of how it’s working. And as you’ve already learned, taking nitro before you are planning to exert yourself can be a way to stay on top of angina symptoms instead of, as I used to do, white-knuckle it through an angina episode somehow just wishing that the pain would go away nicely on its own…

      As I like to now say, “Nitro is your friend!”


      • Jim July 10, 2018 at 11:36 am #

        I’ve used the spray now on three occasions and each time my breathing feels better almost immediately. I still have a little tightness in the chest but about a half hour later, even that subsides a little. This is a little miracle. What I thought was a re-emergence of asthma is more easily treated this way than with a pesky asthma inhaler. It isn’t asthma after all.

        Thank you again! I have been educated. You have made my day, week, month, year.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Carolyn Thomas July 11, 2018 at 4:15 pm #

          So glad you found my blog (and of course Dr. Lown’s brilliant advice here!)


  11. Audrey June 23, 2018 at 12:58 pm #

    Hi my sister is getting a lot of chest pain, it’s sort of behind her heart under her breast going round her back and into her arm. She has a gtn (nitro) spray and is using it up to 5 times a day. Doc gave her an ECG, haven’t got results yet. Should she go to hospital?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas June 23, 2018 at 2:15 pm #

      Hello Audrey – I’m not a physician so I cannot comment specifically on your sister’s distressing symptoms, but I can say generally that if symptoms are getting worse with exertion but then settle down with rest, that’s a classic sign of heart-related angina. If these symptoms worsen, or come on during rest – yes, she should go to the hospital (at the very least, see her GP immediately. There are many possible causes of chest pain;, right now you don’t know if these symptoms are heart-related or not. But if her symptoms continue or worsen, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


  12. XAVIER DAVID April 13, 2018 at 1:17 am #

    Hi, I live in Malaysia…I am 66 yes old, Gtn has certainly been a good friend…all the time. Besides, a CHF patient, bypassed….2 attacks 1-MF and 1 mild, I have been using GTN for a while… sometimes daily. Note, I do suffer from a bad hiatal hernia too…so I was told by my cardiologist that you do get relief from Vagal irritation as a result of hiatal hernia and reflux.

    Truly, this has been a wonder pill….But, I do follow up with all relevant check ups + medications..But, still struggling with my hiatal hernia + reflux… with slow improvements in my diet….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carolyn Thomas April 14, 2018 at 8:21 am #

      Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like GTN (nitro) has been a constant friend for a long time, even sometimes helping your hernia symptoms! Best of luck to you…


    • Jane July 18, 2018 at 4:29 pm #

      So, are you saying that if unsure whether reflux and/or hernia, if pain is not relieved by the nitro, it IS cardiac?


      • Carolyn Thomas July 19, 2018 at 10:15 am #

        Hi Jane – actually, there are many of us heart patients living with refractory angina (that’s chest pain unrelieved by standard treatments/meds) for whom nitro does relieve pain, and heart patients for whom nitro does not work.

        In other words, symptoms can be heart-related whether nitro works or does not work. If it doesn’t work, it may be:
        A: NOT heart-related at all, but due to a non-cardiac cause
        B: related to a severe blockage of one or more coronary arteries which requires immediate emergency treatment.


  13. Christopher Pilcher March 11, 2018 at 12:08 pm #

    I am 82, when I was 65 I had what was probably an MI but as I was living in Zimbabwe far from a town, I did not get to a Dr for 2 weeks. Big concern after ECG and recomendations to go to Johannesburg for cardiac cath – but no money and other family illness made this impossible. Moved to|UK where various meds have been tried to lower BP, but most have side effects and soon do not work well.

    As I have a degree including biochem, I decided to try GTN (nitro) spray – linked to only using when BP is above 150/85 – apart from the headache this works every time to bring BP below 140/80. I monitor BP around 5x daily.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 11, 2018 at 2:53 pm #

      Hello Christopher – I’m not a physician so of course cannot comment specifically on your case, but I can tell you generally that your GTN (nitro) spray can lower blood pressure (in some patients, this is an unwanted side effect that can lower BP too much, causing light-headedness or fainting!) I’m curious, however, about why you’re checking your BP five times a day. Twice-daily measurement is usually recommended for those with diagnosed high blood pressure (the first in the morning before eating or taking any medications, and the second in the evening). It seems that taking your readings five times a day might cause undue anxiety about your blood pressure – which can in turn raise your blood pressure…


  14. Ralph Rasnic March 11, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    Just wondering how many times in let’s say an 18 hour period can you safely take a nitrostat tab?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 11, 2018 at 3:05 pm #

      Hi Ralph – I’m not a physician, but I can say that most nitro drug insert packaging warns about the number of doses in terms of time (e.g. no more than three doses in one 15-minute period; if angina persists, call 911).

      Personally, on a ‘bad’ day of persistent chest pain, I have had 3-4 separate periods of angina (separated by hours) in which angina is relieved after just one dose of nitro). Please see your cardiologist for specific advice about your own experience just to make sure you’re on the right track.


  15. Abel March 6, 2018 at 3:56 pm #

    What does it mean when you take nitro and the pain goes away, or if it doesn’t go away?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 6, 2018 at 7:54 pm #

      Abel, I’m not a physician so I can’t comment about your own specific case, but I can tell you generally that nitro is what’s called a vasodilator drug, meaning that it helps to dilate (open up) the coronary arteries, as Dr. Lown explained in this article: “It dilates coronary arteries and decreases the workload of the heart, two factors responsible for the discomfort of angina” (chest pain caused by a narrowing of the artery). If taking nitro does not make the chest pain go away, it could mean a number of things (for example, that the chest pain is not heart-related after all, or that the nitro is not able to dilate the artery enough to reduce symptoms). In both cases, people should see a doctor if chest pain persists or gets worse.


  16. Paul Bennett February 10, 2018 at 12:18 pm #

    Dear Carolyn, great advice / opinions / suggestions to us over here in ‘Good-ole-Blighty’ (UK).

    Diagnosed with Angina on Christmas Eve at 7:00PM as the practice closed for Christmas and given the advice after the 2nd spray and maybe in need of a 3rd, call 999! . . . great time of year don’t you think?

    Over the last month, I spent many hours staring at this ‘little red bottle’ in fear of a pain scale of 1 to 10 as to when to take the first ‘hit’!!

    Bumping into your “BEST HEART BLOG ON THE WEB!” even as a ‘man’ I found this to be so reassuring and can now see that “nitro is your friend” indeed. I am now using as a preventer more rather than a cure. Well done indeed 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas February 11, 2018 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks Paul – nitro is indeed your friend! I’d never leave home without it… Best of luck to you…


  17. Heather Orner January 19, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

    I greatly benefit from using my nitroglycerin in this way since reading this article. Thank you.

    Unfortunately, 2 different pharmacist gave 2 different opinions on my using it so often. One said no problem, the other said no more than 3 a day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas January 19, 2018 at 3:20 pm #

      Well, there you go, Heather. Perfect example of dueling professionals… Yours is the ultimate opinion that matters – do some homework, learn as much as you can, re-read Dr. Lown’s advice, and chat with your cardiologist to help you make the best decision for you.


  18. John Mathews January 18, 2018 at 1:26 am #

    Fair comment Carolyn 🙂


  19. John Mathews January 17, 2018 at 3:47 pm #

    Although this article is of some comfort, is the need to take nitroglycerin a warning sign that your arteries are clogging up and need more radical intervention such as stents or bypass?

    I have had one stent and one angioplasty at the same time in 2010 aged 54 at that time. I never go out without the spray. I have had the need to use it 3 or 4 times over the last 7 years. Each time I hesitate because its a realisation that my arteries are not in a good condition despite taking all the meds recommended. The nitro stops the pain which confirms my fear. I feel like the need to have it looked into but Dr’s state angiogram is not without its risks itself and not necessary in my case.

    Are there any other tests that could be done. I am not a believer in stress testing as I initially had such tests before my heart attack in 2010 and it revealed nothing. In fact some times when I feel pain now I get on the ex bike to see if it gets worse (stress test myself), curiosity will kill the cat eventually. Ironically the exercise seems to help the pain go away without the nitro.

    I am male 61 yrs old and relatively fit and active.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas January 17, 2018 at 4:25 pm #

      John, many of us tend to believe that for every symptom, there is an invasive clinical procedure that should/must be done (the sooner the better!!) and that every coronary artery blockage, no matter the size, needs to be opened up – despite the lack of scientific evidence to support these beliefs. It may even seem counter-intuitive to think that every twinge of chest pain shouldn’t be immediately “fixed”.

      But people like me who live with chronic angina need to know that an occasional episode of chest pain does not permanently damage the heart muscle, and having angina doesn’t actually mean a heart attack is imminent. I’m not a physician so cannot comment specifically on your case, but I can tell you that generally speaking, a person who has needed to use nitro to relieve chest pain only three or four times over a seven-year period is not likely suffering from chronic angina.

      The one thing you should seek immediate medical help for is any sudden or dramatic change in symptoms – otherwise, keep taking your meds, enjoy staying fit and active, and use that exercise bike. Daily physical exercise in fact (unless for some reason your doctor has warned you against it) is likely the best possible thing you can now do for your heart. Worrying is likely far more damaging to your coronary arteries than this occasional chest pain is. Best of luck to you….


  20. Liam Minkus January 7, 2018 at 6:24 pm #

    How long should you wait before calling 911 with chest pain? From what I see online, many just use nitro daily – ???

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas January 7, 2018 at 6:48 pm #

      Hi Liam – I’m not a physician, but I can tell you generally that if your nitro works to *completely* address your chest pain, you’re likely okay. (I’m assuming your doctor has already recommended nitro for your chest pain? If not, and this is new chest pain, and you have no nitro, seek a medical opinion!)

      You are correct: many of us living with chronic angina use nitro daily, or almost daily, or wear a nitro patch every day for persistent angina symptoms.

      The important thing to remember is the Rule of Three that I mentioned in this blog post: if your chest pain persists after taking the first dose of nitro, you can take a second dose five minutes later, and then a third dose five minutes later if that second one doesn’t work, but you’d better be calling 911 with that third dose.


  21. Bob Gerbasi December 14, 2017 at 8:18 am #

    I take 30 mg isosorbide in the early morning along with plavix. This keeps angina away until about 8:00-8:30 PM. THEN, the angina becomes intense. I take a small nitro tablet and try and relax. The pain subsides. If I get up, walk to the kitchen or get in bed and try to get into a comfortable position, that exertion brings back the pain. I hate the feeling.

    Doctors (plural) have been dragging their butts regarding what I thought 7 months ago was Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). They ignored me and kept trying to give me $10 worth of blood pressure meds to “cure” me. As it turns out I now have PAD, a severe walking disability, heading for a CO2 vascular interventional radiology cat scan next Tuesday. Do I not trust current medical practice? It’s a cattle call with one doctor shuffling you off to another one. If I can get where I can walk again, I’ll never set foot in another doctor’s office. Thank God for the isosorbide and nitro tabs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 14, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

      Hello Bob – I’m not a physician so cannot comment on your specific case, but I can tell you generally that many of my readers report angina symptoms worsening in the evening, made more pronounced by lying down, especially on the left side. Some less common cardiac conditions that can also cause increased chest pain when lying down include pericarditis (an inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart). Your current daytime meds strategy seems to be working okay; Dr. Lown would likely suggest you try preventive nitro as the clock approaches 8pm – in other words, do NOT wait until after the pain is intense.

      So much of medicine is simply trying to rule out what the problem is NOT….


  22. Jaenne Yorke November 23, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    I was comforted by your article. My husband has angina and also appreciated it.


  23. Leonard Forys November 22, 2017 at 9:20 pm #

    I don’t have traditional angina, but rather an usual shortness of breath when I overexert.

    This started after an aborted PCI. I underwent an angiogram and explicitly asked that I not be stented unless it was a medical emergency. I was asymptomatic at the time. In fact, on a stress test I scored off the chart – 13 METS at age 75. But, they pushed me too hard (over 140ppm) and stenosis was detected. Hence the angiogram.

    The cardiologist attempted to stent me 5 times but couldn’t succeed because of the shape of my arteries. He claimed I had 90% blockage in one artery, 60% in another. A second opinion I got said it was closer to 80% and 50%. Since that time I have had various usual symptoms, several outbreaks of the flu, shortness of breath etc..

    After reading Dr. Lown’s articles I decided to take .4mg of Nitrostat prophylactically. e.g. before my 1 hour morning walk. I also keep my pulse rate below 120. I have no symptoms by following this regime. I went on a 2 week hiking vacation in Switzerland last month. I did 8-10 miles a day and took 3 Nitrostat tablets each day, about 2-3 hours apart. Felt great!!!

    Thank you Dr. Lown.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas November 23, 2017 at 11:28 am #

      Two weeks hiking in Switzerland – sounds like your new nitro regimen is working, Leonard!


  24. Bob Gerbasi November 2, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    I think your article is terrific. I just took my first pill. 5 trips to the emergency room while they do the same tests and I keep getting worse. I told them two years ago the blood pressure medicine was frying my kidneys and I was having trouble walking. Now one doctor says it’s the stent may be plugged, the kidney doctor says my gfr (kidney filtration rate) is 23 (disastrous). The vascular surgeon won’t check for PAD because he can’t use iodine for the necessary. The endocrinologist says I may have a blockage. My primary physician says, “I don’t know.” You think I trust these guessers?

    I asked for the nitroglycerin today for terrible angina. One pill, I feel good for a change. Let me walk up and down the hallway a few times.. minute please..legs a little weak. No chest pain… general feeling of tiredness, can feel a little buzz in my head but no headache. All good so far. Breathing not impaired. A whole lot less anxiety. I should have been taking this 4 years ago I guess.
    Best to you all


    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas November 3, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

      Bob, as I like to say: “nitro is your friend”. I’m glad that your first dosage gave you some relief at last! I love Dr. Bernard Lown’s advice mentioned in this article, but I’m also concerned that you’re getting all of these conflicting messages from your doctors. No wonder your legs feel a bit weak – it sounds like you may be what they call “de-conditioned” if you haven’t been feeling well enough to walk and get exercise lately. Best of luck to you…


      • Bob Gerbasi December 14, 2017 at 8:58 am #

        Carolyn, what does deconditioned mean? My cadre of doctors act like they could care less if I live or die. I’m not sure I can make it to next Tuesday’s CAT scan. I can’t walk from here to the corner. Hydorochlorthiazide and lisinopril, after one week of use four years ago, lowered my kidney function from 60 gfr to 25. Absolute disaster they disavow in their end.

        My heart problems you know about. NOW, none of these doctors can say definitively, “Yes, it’s your heart, or it could be PAD, or your kidneys are one step away from dialysis, or you might have a pulmonary problem. Oh Yeah, we also might have to do vascular surgery on your legs.”

        Add the stress of being on medical leave from work, dealing with California state disability, my new health insurer, my short term disability insurance company at work, what a trying time. Sorry for sounding like A crybaby, but at 80 years old it pisses me off.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Carolyn Thomas December 14, 2017 at 1:51 pm #

          Hi again, Bob – just to clarify: you’re 80 and you’re on medical leave from work? I’m only asking because most 80 year olds I know are happily retired…

          You sound like you’ve had a relatively healthy life until all of this stuff started happening (was that about four years ago?) As I’d mentioned before, I’m concerned that you seem to be getting different advice/opinions from different doctors. Specialists, it’s true, can often work in a silo, focused on their uniquely separate organ, unless you go to a place like Mayo Clinic where care of the “whole patient” involves a team approach who all determine together what the optimal course of treatment might be.

          Also, in my experience, doctors rarely say a diagnosis “definitively” in the absence of diagnostic test results that clearly point to that diagnosis. Also in my experience, I know how truly dangerous it is to have a doctor “definitively” misdiagnose my heart attack as acid reflux and send me home from the ER with instructions to see my GP for a prescription for antacid drugs…

          Being “de-conditioned” is what happens when people like you report that you can no longer “walk from here to the corner”. Something is happening that is keeping you from moving your body as you’ve been used to moving it all your life.

          PS I do NOT think you are being a crybaby, by the way. Hang in there and good luck on Tuesday at your scan appointment – I’m really hoping this will help to determine the cause of your symptoms and the next treatment step!


          • Gerbasi Bob December 14, 2017 at 9:05 pm #

            Thank you Carolyn, it’s very kind of you to respond. Yes I’m still working because you can put my judgment about women right up there with Custer and Nixon.!! LOL

            Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!!

            As a footnote and afterthought, I took the isosorbide and plavix as usual this morning early, then around 2:30-3:00 I took the metropolol and losartan and tonite I feel fine and have had no chest pain all day so far. Once again it’s vascular I believe. They are checking the blood work tomorrow prior to Tuesday’s test.
            Thank you once again 💘😘

            Liked by 1 person

  25. Gregg Jacobson September 25, 2017 at 9:23 am #

    I am new to the use of nitro. I was wondering if there was a limit to how many tablets you can use in a day? I know about the 3 in 15 mins for severe pain but was wondering if it’s ok to do 4 tablets a day if chest discomfort returns. Example, light chest pain at 8am so I take one. All is well. But what if mild chest pains return 2-3 more times in that day. Is it ok to take another tablet in those incidents? I did not see a daily maximum in the medical directions. Thanks for your input.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas September 25, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

      That’s a very good question, Gregg! I’m not a physician so can’t comment specifically on your case, but I can say that you are describing my nitro regimen exactly! It’s quite common, for example, for me to have a number of (mild-moderate) episodes of angina throughout what I’d call a ‘bad day’ – each requiring at least one dose of nitro (I happen to use spray, but taking nitro tablets is the same). Most of the time, one dose of nitro is enough to do the trick, at least for a while. Also, I’ve learned not to wait until angina pain is severe (it’s much easier to get on top of the chest pain while it’s still mild-moderate). If you find yourself having worsening cardiac symptoms every day, day after day, you could also ask your physician about switching to a nitro patch or extended release tablets (both of which require a ‘nitro-free’ break each day). They’re not appropriate for everybody, but might be an option someday. Best of luck to you…


    • Leonard Forys November 22, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

      I take up to 4-5 per day if needed, which isn’t very often. Dr. Lown gives an example of a patient who took 5 a day for 30 years and never got an angina attack.


  26. Tammy September 16, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    Thank you for this information but I have been told that it’s not angina or heart related if you get a nitro headache – that it must be heartburn or stress. I have had several tests done and continue to have all the heart symptoms, unbeareable to live with. I have the patches but horrible headaches; my symptoms are random, not daily. Any suggestions would help this is going on 4 years now. Thank you


    • Carolyn Thomas September 16, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

      Hello Tammy – I’m not a physician, but I can tell you that whoever told you that a nitro headache is proof that your chest pain is not heart-related was quite wrong. It would be almost impossible, in fact, to find any credible information anywhere about the use of nitro for chest pain that does NOT list headache as a common side effect. Patches can also affect headaches, for the same reasons that nitro pills or spray would: they are all vasodilators, meaning they they open up the blood vessels, including those in the head and the brain, and this is what can lead to a headache.

      My understanding is that nitro patches are recommended for heart patients who have significant chest pain every day, several times a day – however, it sounds like yours are random, not daily, so I’m wondering why you have been prescribed a patch for random episodes. Please see your physician to discuss a medication review – something is causing your symptoms and you need to find out what that is. Best of luck to you…


      • Bob Gerbasi December 14, 2017 at 8:27 am #

        I think she should ask her doctor for 30 mg of extended release isosorbide. Four years of no relief is a joke. Get the isosorbide and another doctor.


  27. Mike September 10, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    I’ve been told by my urologist that my very low testosterone levels more than likely caused my heart attack. So, I have been on testosterone therapy for almost 4 years now.He even gave me samples of Stendhal, Cialis and one other one. My cardiologist
    said I can use those as well however, if I have angina or chest pains I cannot take my nitro tabs. He told me he has patients that this has worked for and he told about a patient that had massive heart attack right “afterward.” He said it was up to me…


  28. Terrence Smith August 12, 2017 at 1:31 pm #

    As a CAD patient, who has carried nitro for 30 years, I can relate to the reluctance to take that first dose. One equates an improvement in health with less nitro, especially when the wife becomes alarmed when I take it thinking I am having another heart attack.

    I am getting old enough to see the finish line from here and intend to use nitro to relieve any chest discomfort as needed or anticipated.

    This is a “timeless” article and should be read by more heart patients early in their journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 12, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

      Hello Terrence – you’ve had 30 years of experience getting to know how your nitro works for you! So true – generally speaking, we tend to think “healthy” means we can throw away our meds – except for our nitro! I love Dr. Lown’s observation: “the free use of nitroglycerin enables patients with angina to outlive their doctors!”


  29. Esme L Clarke July 15, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    I am an LPN , I work 3 jobs, I am exhausted 24/7, I am overweight. I have hypothyroid hashimotos and fibromyalgia. I am also 50. If I stop moving for too long I hurt all over and have chest pain. Angina. I take my nitro spray approx 3 times a week for bricks on my chest feeling. It works great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Mielock July 22, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

      Hello… I am 87 years old, and had chest pain just a few weeks ago. I went to the emergency room, was told to lay down, and a nurse gave me my first nitroglycerin tablet ever, under my tongue. Since then, I have had a coronary artery cleaned out via a heart catheterization. The chest pain went away a few seconds after taking the tablet. All this I expected, from reading about this subject.

      But one aspect that was surprising and very pleasing to me, was that my brain “cleared up”. For about 2 years I have suffered from disequilibrium, and general overall foggy sensation in my brain, that is with me 24/7. So I am assuming the blood vessels in my brain were dilated by the nitro.

      I loved the gift of a “normal brain” feel, for just those few minutes. I will ask my cardiologist if I can use some form of nitroglycerin continuously, and hope for a helpful reply.

      Any suggestions?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carolyn Thomas July 23, 2017 at 7:49 am #

        Hi James and thanks for sharing your interesting experience here. I’m not a physician, so can’t comment on your nitro usage, but I can say that this seems like a remarkable and positive side effect! There are longterm nitroglycerin treatments (e.g. the nitro patch) typically used on patients with debilitating chest pain, but your cardiologist will be able to advise if you qualify for those as well. Best of luck to you!


    • Carolyn Thomas July 23, 2017 at 7:45 am #

      Esme, you sound like you’re overwhelmed with some very distressing symptoms and an exhausting work life. Good to know your nitro gives you some relief…


    • Carolyn Thomas August 12, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

      You have a lot on your plate, Esme. I’m glad that your nitro works well for you – if only somebody could invent a ‘nitro’-like remedy that works as well for your other diagnoses! Take care of yourself….


  30. Michael R Hight July 13, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    Great article. Gives me good advice on the use of Nitro pills or spray. I always thought that when you had an episode, you had to wait to take your nitro. I always thought that you had to be careful of how much you should take. This article gave super advice on how to use it. After reading it, I showed it to my Cardiologist and he agreed with all written down and said he never even thought to tell his patients the proper way to use their nitro, and now he will.

    Yesterday after thinking I was having a Heart Attack, I was given nitro spray and it worked fast and it will be prescribed for me. Thank You so much for all you wrote. A job well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas July 13, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

      Michael, thanks so much for showing this article about nitro to your cardiologist. You just helped him to become a better doctor! Best of luck to you…


  31. Mike Ellis May 17, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

    Cat scan showed I had heart disease, does that mean I have a blockage?


    • Carolyn Thomas May 18, 2017 at 9:38 am #

      I’m not a physician so cannot address your specific case, Mike, but I can tell you that these scans may be more accurate in ruling out heart disease than in necessarily confirming it. They can be good at picking up very early coronary plaques, especially calcified plaque. Talk to your doctor to make sure you understand exactly what your test does or does not confirm and what your next steps should be.


    • geoffrey spellman April 10, 2018 at 12:20 pm #

      The gold standard for seeing if you have blocked arteries is an angiogram.


  32. NADEEM May 14, 2017 at 8:16 am #

    Nice article. My headache subsided after taking paracetamol.
    Alhamdu Lillah.


  33. Debra March 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    I have been in the hospital just 7 days ago. I go to the hospital when I have chest pain, I get scared because my parents died of heart and stroke. But 8 years ago I had a mild heart attack. Sometimes I feel like I am going crazy.


    • Carolyn Thomas March 22, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

      Hello Debra – I’m not a physician so cannot comment on your symptoms. Please see your doctor for help. You are not going crazy, but you’re probably feeling very worried about this chest pain. Good luck to you…


  34. Gale March 11, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    Hi there, just been diagnosed with angina and unsure of at what stage do I use my spray? my chest feels tight, then my left arm feels tight, so do I take it before my arm goes like that?


    • Carolyn Thomas March 11, 2017 at 11:29 am #

      Hello Gale – you should double-check with your physician of course, but generally speaking, Dr. Lown suggests patients can safely use nitro preventatively (in other words, don’t wait until you have unbearable chest pain before taking it). You may have to experiment a few times before you get the hang of when and how often this works for your angina.


  35. Rita January 28, 2017 at 6:59 am #

    I just started taking 30 mg of imdur for the first time today. Will it help with discomfort in my chest? And do I need to check b/p – I have high blood pressure but take meds for that?


    • Carolyn Thomas January 28, 2017 at 7:27 am #

      Hello Rita – I’m assuming your doctor has prescribed the Imdur for you. Yes it will usually help to manage the discomfort in your chest. Follow the instructions from your doctor on how to take it, and call your doctor if you experience any distressing side effects. Headaches are the most common in the beginning, but often ease up as your body adjusts. Most people experience lower blood pressure while taking this drug. You might want to monitor your BP for the first few weeks to see how your body reacts to the Imdur.


  36. Robert January 17, 2017 at 9:39 pm #

    Can nitro be used after open heart surgery? I had a triple bypass and experience angina. Being diabetic I’ve been working hard at keeping my blood sugar low, but what’s good for diabetes is not always good for the heart, which concerns me too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas January 18, 2017 at 4:44 am #

      Hello Robert – I’m not a physician so cannot comment about your specific case, but I can tell you that generally nitro is often given to patients after bypass surgery if some of the coronary arteries could not be bypassed. We know that people living with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease. Please talk to your endocrinologist about how your cardiac diagnosis affects your diabetes. Best of luck to you…


  37. Mary Kay Osborne December 16, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    i had 2 stents placed and afterwards I would get angina a lot. I was diagnosed with small vessel disease and I was told nitro was my friend, but last spring I came across a website about raising the head of your bed 6 inches, so my husband raised the head of the bed 6 inches and I have had very few episodes of angina. Haven’t had to take nitro since. Needless to say, I am very happy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 16, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

      Hello Mary Kay – I’m not a physician but I can tell you that there is some (limited) evidence that raising the head of the bed may have some effect on reducing some people’s angina symptoms. Certain types of angina occur while lying down (but not necessarily sleeping) because the fluids in the body are redistributed due to gravity, and the heart has to work harder. For example, a small, short-term 1982 study on 10 patients published in the British medical journal The Lancet (Mohl et al) found that hospital patients placed in a sleeping position called the “reverse Trendelenburg position” for one night (bed inclined at a 10 degree angle, so that the head is higher than the pelvis and the legs are lower than hip) did result in relief of angina pain. We also know that raising the head of the bed is sometimes recommended for other conditions, e.g. to reduce nighttime acid reflux pain (GERD) or frequent nighttime urination or some blood pressure issues at night. It sounds like this is also working for your small vessel disease symptoms.


  38. Liselotte Poss December 15, 2016 at 11:23 pm #

    Very helpful in regards to the proper usuage of nitro. Honestly never thought that I would have a heart problem, aneurysm. Go figure, being a smoker–thought the lungs would get it.

    I do have one question: why does the nitro burn when dissolving under the tongue?

    Thank you a lot for time and honesty about your use of nitro. Now I am not afraid of the drug or continuous usuage.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 16, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      Hello Liselotte (what a lovely name!) – I’m not a physician so can’t answer specifically about that sharp burning or tingling taste when you take nitro. I can tell you, however, that if you don’t feel that typical sharp burning or tingling, it apparently doesn’t mean it’s NOT working. The only exception is if you accidentally swallow a nitro pill (in which case you should take another dose as it must dissolve under the tongue to work effectively). And always keep your physician up to date on how often you need to be taking nitro. Best of luck to you…


  39. Robert Lee December 11, 2016 at 7:44 am #

    I cannot tell you how helpful this has been. I am 68 now, 3 yrs ago I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) and consequently had test to check the arteries, etc. My arteries are perfect, my cholesterol is where it belongs. I have been told I have cardiomyopathy (weak heart muscle) and irregular heart rhythm.

    For three years I have been afraid to take the nitro. I was told that If I have to take the nitro I better be on the way to the hospital. That is scary! So I have not used it. This morning at 4am I woke up and felt bad w/dull chest pain. by 6am still felt bad could not lay down. Drank water because I am on ‘furosemide’ to drain water from heart and lungs. Water helped a little. At 7:30am got up and started searching “nitro heart what it does”. Your web page was second on the list.

    At 8:00am took one nitro tab. Exact symptoms as described, light headed, rush of coolness, small headache. Must have needed it sooner than 8 because it took until 9:10am for me to level out and start feeling more normal. I have been trying real hard to balance the drugs carefully so as not to have many side effects. Also on carvedilol. I have a cardiologist who works with me to keep the doses at the lowest possible limits so as not to overload my system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 11, 2016 at 8:12 am #

      Thanks so much for your comment here, Robert. Whoever warned you that taking even one dose of nitro in the first place meant a trip to the ER did you a disservice. Generally, as Dr. Bernard Lown advises, you can take at least two consecutive doses before you need to call 911, and in the majority of cases, either the first or second dose will do the trick. Talk to your cardiologist about taking nitro so that you are no longer scared to take this important and effective drug. Best of luck …


    • Hope August 4, 2017 at 2:22 am #



  40. CR December 8, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    This article was helpful. It helped relieve the fear and apprehension of using nitro spray on a regular basis. I am in pain, even at rest. However, afraid to use the spray to be more mobile. Fear of the unknown.

    Time to do some experimenting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 8, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

      Good luck with your experiment, CR – just take it slow. If you’re in pain even at rest, you might also consider discussing the possibility of a prescription for a nitro patch rather than pills or spray.


  41. Amanda B October 8, 2016 at 10:00 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this information. My boyfriend’s dad had a heart attack about 6 years ago and more recently was diagnosed with angina. Over the past 5 months or so he’s been slowly experiencing more frequent and painful episodes. He’s seen his doctor and even had a couple stays in the hospital while he had tests done but his diagnosis was still angina.

    His symptoms have been keeping him from living his life, preventing him from doing anything he used to enjoy. So although he was prescribed nitroglycerin and has taken it before a few times for bad episodes, this is the first we have heard about the possibility of it being used for maintenance rather than an acute flare-up. We’re going to ask his doctor about this at his next appointment. So thank you again for providing a new avenue for us to look in to and hopefully maybe help him get his life back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 9, 2016 at 5:04 am #

      Hello Amanda and thanks for your comment. I wonder if his doctor is aware that he isn’t using his nitro as needed? For example, is the nitro not working to address those bad episodes? If it is working, then taking it as needed at the start of an angina attack (not waiting until it’s so bad you have to go to hospital) could be the way to go. If the angina is what’s keeping him from doing what he loves doing in life, but he’s not taking his nitro that’s been prescribed for that angina, no wonder he’s suffering! The patient has to be willing to use the tools the doctor gives him. Best of luck…


  42. Catherine Santorelli October 7, 2016 at 8:39 pm #

    Very good article. I’ve always thought that if I took nitro too often it would lose its effectiveness. Now I see that’s not true. I was diagnosed with Prinzmetal Angina. It happens so often that I’ve been given isosorbide mononitrate to take daily. I have 3 stents but no blockages. Just the angina from spasms. It’s hard to live with because each time I think “Is this another heart attack?”. I’m 71 and live alone. I’m frightened of dying.


    • Carolyn Thomas October 8, 2016 at 5:21 am #

      Hello Catherine – I’m sorry you are going through this. I can sure remember that awful feeling (“Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911?”) and it’s both exhausting and frightening. It is true that the body can build up a tolerance for long-acting nitro (specifically when wearing a nitro patch, for example, which is why patch wearers must give the body a break by taking the patch off overnight). Just double-check with your doctor about taking “breakthrough” doses of nitro as needed while you’re already on your Imdur (isosorbide mononitrate) – and if you do take breakthrough doses, make sure you’re sitting down as the effect can cause you to be light-headed. Many patients do take breakthrough doses even on a patch that are effective.


  43. CJ Osborne September 21, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    Thank you for posting this information. I’ve avoided taking my nitrostat for fear of headache, but you’ve covered how to help with that also. Understanding that it can be used without dependency or lessening its effectiveness is very reassuring. I better understand why my cardiologist recommends using it instead of enduring occasional angina.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas September 21, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

      Hello CJ – that’s just how I felt too before reading Dr. Lown’s very useful advice! I used to deliberately postpone taking nitro for angina, choosing to tough it out instead! Not any more! Remember: “Nitro is your friend”!


  44. Geraldine Matus September 10, 2016 at 4:54 am #

    Thanks for this helpful article. I’m beginning to better understand how to manage my heart health.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas September 10, 2016 at 6:04 am #

      Hi Geraldine – glad you found this helpful. Dr. Lown’s advice should be given to every patient taking nitro for angina!


  45. Mike August 6, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

    Wow! This is the best info I have ever read on how and why I should take my nitro tablets, even among medical websites I have read. I have been taking my tablets occasionally since my heart attack three years ago, early on, “waiting” as you point out, to see if the angina would go away on its own, or wondering if it was actually angina or perhaps just a nerve or chest muscle twinge.

    I learned to take it any time I first feel pain. Your article is very reassuring and is helpful to those who often have doubts whether we should be using it so much. Thanks for helping us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 6, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

      Thanks so much for your perspective, Mike. I now take Dr. Lown’s further advice (taking a preemptive dose of nitro before I do something that I know from experience has previously caused angina). This works really well, too…


  46. Lukus July 1, 2016 at 8:28 pm #

    Awesome article. Thanks for the well laid out facts and tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. Trevor Cushman March 11, 2016 at 12:48 am #

    In the last 6 months I had a couple of stents put in and I was afraid what was going to happen next. They put me on Plavix and Lipitor; even though I didn’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol numbers, they said once you get a stent it skews the numbers where what used to be good is no longer a good number and they also gave me Nitro.

    I’ve had the bottle for about 6 months and have been afraid to try it to this day. I don’t know why, I guess that’s part of being human. I was just scared. Well I was laying down tonight and the chest pain got worse so I decided to try it after reading the above article.

    I’d like to say thank you to the doctor who wrote that. I don’t know if you just saved me from discomfort or if you saved my life – thank you.
    Sincerely yours
    Trevor S Cushman

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 11, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

      Hi Trevor – what a great example of how a simple medication like nitro does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Remember: “Nitro is your friend!”


  48. Christiana January 24, 2016 at 2:17 am #

    Is it common for nitro pills to give a nervous type feeling after you take it? I know the headaches are but I get a little anxiety and a nervous shaky wired feeling too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas January 24, 2016 at 6:13 am #

      Hi Christiana – I haven’t head the term “anxiety” specifically, but it is common after a dose of nitro to experience dizziness or lightheadedness. I wonder if that’s what’s causing your reactions? The other thing to remember is that you’re taking nitro during a bout of chest pain, which may or may not mean an impending cardiac event – that’s enough in itself to make us anxious.


    • Adrienne Ottaviani March 11, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

      Does an EEG show angina?


      • Carolyn Thomas March 12, 2016 at 5:52 am #

        I’m guessing you mean EKG (study of electrical activity of the heart) not EEG (study of electrical activity of the brain) in which case the answer is “not necessarily”. About 40% of women, for example, experience no chest symptoms at all during a heart attack, and some people who have angina have normal EKGs.


  49. Les January 11, 2016 at 11:46 pm #

    How many times a day can you take nitroglycerin?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas January 12, 2016 at 5:58 am #

      Depends. I’m not a physician so can’t offer you specific advice for your situation, but my understanding is that if you’re taking nitro for an episode of chest pain, you should follow the 3-dose max as described above before seeking medical help. If, like me, you’re taking one dose a number of times throughout the day as needed, or if you’re finding that the oral spray/sub-lingual pill is no longer effectively managing symptoms, talk to your physician about extended-release capsules or a nitro patch instead.


  50. John Ferth December 13, 2015 at 12:32 am #

    Get the spray. Carry it with you all the time. Chest pain, too cold, big meal, before sex, sit down, spray under the tongue, relax a bit. There will be no headache after a while. $30.00 in Canada, you no longer need prescription, good for 3 years. It really works for me since a 1994 valve replacement and bypass. It is a miracle drug. And use it! Don’t be afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 13, 2015 at 7:32 am #

      Hi John – like you, I carry my nitro with me 100% of the time, and like to use it pro-actively (like before a big hike) rather than wait for angina to become severe. I’m Canadian, and I still need my doctor’s prescription for nitro ($27 was the cost for my last refill) – yet non-Canadians can get it from mail-order pharmacies with no prescription?


  51. Frank McCambridge October 28, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    I have used Nitro (as needed, for Angina) for fifteen years. Due to a move, I had to go to a different Cardiologist. She said that I should not use it and seemed to think that it was a very bad drug.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 28, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

      Hello Frank – if I were you, I’d be asking that cardiologist for the journal references behind her comment. I have never heard of telling heart patients with angina to stay away from nitro. Perhaps you are now on other meds that are contraindicated when taking nitro? A mystery….


  52. bveltrop72 July 27, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    Oh Carolyn! Thank you for sharing this. I’ve always taught my cardiac patients this at discharge but not all nurses are created equal. hahaha

    By the way. Mom has found altitude changes affects her microvascular heart disease. I don’t know if you have also noticed this. BV

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas July 27, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

      Thanks Beth – I sure wish all nurses (and docs) would do as you have done with nitro instructions, too! I had to accidentally stumble on Dr. Lown’s advice years after my own hospital discharge.

      Re MVD: I’ve been really surprised by factors that can significantly affect my symptoms (e.g. altitude, hot weather, cold (even in the frozen food aisle!), emotional stress – like being late for an appointment, etc etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  53. Jane June 17, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    I wonder about the effects of chronic preventive nitroglycerin use, and what the potential effects are. Say you’re taking the nitro before every physical exertion. How many times a day might that be? Are patients advised not to exceed certain amounts?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas June 17, 2015 at 8:34 pm #

      Hello Jane – I’m not a physician of course so cannot advise you on your specific case; you should ask your own cardiologist about this. Depending on the type of nitro you’re on (pills, spray, patch), there can be maximum daily dosage recommendations.

      But as Dr. Bernard Lown points out, preventive use of nitro is to be generally recommended for angina patients as opposed to waiting until after extreme angina pain has already struck. For example, I met a heart patient at Mayo who was an elite tennis player who played every day. She took nitro before each match, and then halfway through, she stopped, sat down on a bench, took another spray of nitro, waited five minutes and then was able to finish her game. She had been doing this every day for years, two sprays per day, and only for her tennis matches – as a preventive.

      We do know that there is such a thing as nitro tolerance that can develop in those wearing a long-acting nitro patch (it’s why they must take a 10-12 hour break from the drug to prevent that tolerance – short periods of nitrate absence from the body help to minimize this tolerance). Too much nitroglycerin can mean the drug stops working as well in controlling our symptoms. But it is possible to overdose on nitro – again, check with your cardiologist if you need more info.


  54. June Gordon March 28, 2015 at 3:49 am #

    Thanks, Carolyn, for the wealth of information. I am new to heart attacks and nitro, having just had a triple by-pass in December, 2014. Now that I have read so much about nitro, I will no longer be nervous about using it when necessary. I just had an angina attack and was afraid to use it with the nitro patch, and that question has still not been answered. My doctor told me to wait 24 hours after applying the nitro patch, and if the pain was still there I should head for the emergency room. I am going to take a chance on the nitro spray (in the correct position) the next time the pain starts up.

    As for the cost, seniors in Canada are fortunate as the nitro is covered by our health plan, other than the dispensing fee, which varies depending upon the pharmacy. Everyone should check out Walmart and Costco prices. You don’t need to be a Costco member to use the pharmacy. I am shocked at the prices some people in the U.S. are paying. There has to be a better way! Good luck to all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 28, 2015 at 5:33 am #

      Thanks for sharing your perspective here, June – there’s very little in the literature about taking nitro spray/pill while wearing a nitro patch. One resource suggests that sublingual (spray/pill) “may not work as well while you are taking nitroglycerin patch”. Double check with your cardiologist. Best of luck to you…


  55. Susan McCoy March 25, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    A very informative article, sounds like myself waiting to take nitro or not wanting to because of fear of a bad headache, but after reading this, it makes a lot of sense and rings so very true.

    So from now on, I will no longer wait sometimes hours I would wait to take my nitro and suffer. No more, but it’s important to have fresh nitro, get rid of your old out-dated nitro because it doesn’t work as well as we all should know.

    For now I keep it in three places: my purse, car, and bathroom. Thank you for the great information that makes a lot of sense.
    Sue McCoy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 25, 2015 at 12:40 pm #

      Thanks Sue – always a good idea to check the expiration date of your nitro (as it is with all meds). This may be particularly true for nitro pills/tablets – often recommended to replace every six months. Tablets are also especially sensitive to moisture, so should be stored in a dry location at room temperature (never in a high-humidity bathroom or kitchen – if you use a nitro spray, this isn’t an issue). While some studies have found that about 90% of most medications are likely safe and effective even 15 years past their original expiration date, the FDA now advises consumers NOT to use expired meds. Over time, the chemical composition of the drug may change, meaning that there’s no guarantee it will still be either effective or safe.

      Like you, I make sure I’m never far away from my nitro no matter where I go!


    • Rod Downing June 14, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

      I read that you should NOT store in a car, at least in summer, due to the heat build-up in a car. I’m new to all this and reading up on this (aside: thanks for this article) so all I can say is double-check the notion of storing in a car in the summer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carolyn Thomas June 18, 2017 at 6:46 am #

        This is true, Rod. Nitro, like most other meds, needs to be kept at room temperature in a dry place away from heat, humidity and light (so, also not on top of the fridge where it’s hot). Extreme heat can affect whether it will work or not when you really need it. For heart patients who use nitro, leaving it in a hot car actually shouldn’t ever be an issue because nitro should be carried WITH YOU at all times when you leave the car. I am never away from my nitro. I carry it with me on long walks, picnics, shopping, meetings, out with friends, everywhere I go. If you’re the one stuck in a hot car with your nitro, not much you can do about it – except maybe to keep a little freezer pack in the back seat if you have no air-conditioning and know you’re heading out for a long drive. The important thing is to keep your nitro near you at all times.


  56. Rich March 12, 2015 at 6:43 am #

    Question regarding Nitro patch.

    Roughly how long does it usually take for the nitro to be taken up by the body so as to begin having an effect? Are we talking 5 min. or 20 min etc?


    • Carolyn Thomas March 12, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      Hello Rich – Nitro patches are used to prevent angina, but not to treat an attack of angina once it has begun. Generally (at a dosage of 0.4 mg per hour) it can take up to two hours to reach maximum concentration in the bloodstream, but most patients begin to notice first effects within an hour or so. (The typical “nitro headache” side effect may start an hour after patch application, for example). Patients are often prescribed a minimal dose patch at first that’s adjusted over time if angina symptoms persist. Ask your cardiologist for specifics. If you’re using a nitro spray (on or under your tongue) instead of a patch, it takes effect almost immediately to treat acute attacks of chest pain, within 3-5 minutes usually. Nitro tablets (also placed under the tongue or between cheek and gum) dissolve very quickly too.


  57. autocreate March 1, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Reblogged this and commented:
    To My Dear Brave Heart Sisters,
    We can’t have too much information about tackling heart disease. Read on.


  58. Tacey September 20, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you for this article. I keep coming back and rereading it over and over again and telling myself nitro is my friend. I am struggling.


  59. Jane January 24, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    Bronwyn – I have bad doctors as well. This isn’t the section in which to ask, but I wonder what this arrythmia has been doing for 4 years. I would think it is a benign condition? I know. More question marks.

    I was given nitroglycerin tablets for alleged angina. (It is alleged because the consult I had with another cardiologist told me I needed zero heart medications). I took it one time in the presence of nurses, so I would see what it was like. It took me two days to feel right again. May we all get the quality care we need.


  60. Quality Health Care, Please August 27, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    Nitroglycerin comes in several useful forms: the small pill you put under your tongue ($), a pressurized under the tongue spray ($$$), long acting pills ($$), long acting trans-dermal patches ($$$) and long acting topical paste ($).

    Quick acting nitro and nitro paste are both generic and low cost. But, I looked at the Walmart $4 prescription list and did not find either — so watch out for price gouging and shop around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 27, 2013 at 11:11 am #

      Good advice, Dr. Beckett. Thanks for this. At GoodRx, I found nitro tabs for as little as $8.87 (in Seattle, with their free coupon – just enter the name of your city to find comparable coupon deals).


    • Leigh December 16, 2015 at 6:56 am #

      As of yesterday when I filled the first prescription of the nitro tablets for my husband, 4 little bottles cost $78 at my local Walmart. Considering how long it’s been around, I was shocked.


      • Macanandho In WI January 16, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

        Walgreens now have generic nitrostat. I then got doc to prescribe 4 bottles so I can keep in bedroom, coat pocket, key chain pill holder, basement where I do workouts, and my wife has one in purse. Cost me under 10.00 dollars for all with my insurance vs 25.00 for just one. Mine is fast acting type tabs that I prefer over spray because I potentially feel (probably more psychologically) secure for me personally it is more reliable delivery and not suseptable to malfunction if needed in emergency, though spray is easier/convenient .


  61. The Accidental Amazon August 24, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    Carolyn, this is great info! I’m going to pass this on to my nurse/PT colleagues.

    It’s also an amazing coincidence to see that this wisdom comes from Bernie Lown. Years ago, back in the early 1980s, I worked as the admin assistant for the national director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the North American counterpart to Bernie’s group, IPPNW. It was a crazy time, when we were all trying to speak out on the medical consequences of nuclear weapons & help defuse the Cold War, while Reagan was planting nuclear weapons all over Europe.

    Bernie was on our Board of Directors & I got to meet him several times. He was a lovely man, and his patients are very lucky that he is still practicing with his usual thoughtfulness & compassion. Small world, isn’t it?


    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 24, 2013 at 7:43 am #

      Thanks so much, Kathi. That is indeed a small world coincidence that you know “Bernie” Lown personally. It’s pretty impressive that, at age 92, he launched a (terrific!) new blog with his granddaughter, Melanie.


      • The Accidental Amazon August 25, 2013 at 3:29 am #

        And wouldn’t you know, his current post is about how the ‘big business’ of medicine can drive treatment decisions that are not based on clinical data. A subject both you & I have blogged about.

        I’m certainly bookmarking his blog!

        Liked by 1 person

  62. Kay Storey August 21, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    I have quite low blood pressure so I am afraid to use it. I have a low dose but afraid I will pass out. So far my angina goes away with rest.


    • Carolyn Thomas August 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

      Hi Kay – what Dr. Lown tried with his heart patients was to have them take a trial dose while sitting in front of him so they could each assess its impact safely. I always try to lie down if possible for each dose to avoid feeling light-headed or faint (sometimes it’s not possible, so I sit – I never stand up until several minutes go by after the dose). If your angina is well-controlled by rest, that seems to be working for you. If rest doesn’t relieve it, nitro becomes your “just in case” therapy.


  63. Nitro Mama August 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    This was very informative. I always carry my nitro with me. I use it about once a month. My headache is fleeting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 20, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      Nitro Mama, always best to carry your nitro with you just in case, right?


  64. jdegrand August 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    Carolyn, once again you have given me such useful information. I have been using my nitro tabs for 2 years without gaining the full benefit. I have re-posted on Inspire and shared a click through link to your story. Thank you, I appreciate you so very much! Jana

    Liked by 1 person

  65. Kaylen Miller August 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    I don’t always carry my nitro with me and have only had angina one time – right before I was admitted with a 99% blockage. Because I had no symptoms prior to such a severe blockage, I tend to think that nitro isn’t really going to be necessary before it’s too late for nitro.

    My nitro is in a little glass bottle and when I had it in a plastic keychain designed for pills, the nitro became just powder.

    The pharmacist said it must stay in the glass vial and I shouldn’t open it if not necessary… as one of the few females who rarely carries a purse, carrying the little glass vial of pills isn’t something I feel inclined to do – and especially since I have never had to use it.

    I really appreciate this article though, as I have had really negative feelings about taking a pill if the need arises. I also had no idea the proper way to take it – I assumed I should just sit down and try to relax.

    Thanks for this really helpful info!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Thanks Kaylen. You may never need to take your nitro, but it helps to be prepared and informed ahead of time JUST IN CASE. . .


    • Jane January 24, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      I wonder why nitro isn’t available in a blister pack.

      Liked by 1 person

  66. Mary August 19, 2013 at 9:00 am #


    Wonderful post! If I may, I will add a few more tips?

    1) Nitro can be used on an as-needed basis or on a prophylactic basis. My own cardiologist has suggested using it if I am about to do something more effortful, such as going for a walk or lightly exercising. I find that I do better when it’s cooler, so a lower temp may allow me to not need nitro, if I warm up slowly.

    2) Some don’t realize that spray and/or a tablet under the tongue is absorbed by keeping your mouth closed. Don’t spray and talk, as this dissipates the environment it needs to perform for you. Sit down or lie down and allow it to work. Don’t keep the demand high while your heart is recovering from an oxygen deficit. BTW, the heart receives the oxygen from BLOOD FLOW. Your vessels are temporarily boosted (dilation) and more flow is happening, bringing you more oxygen.

    3) Every time I used nitro for about a year, (more the tablet), I would inevitably cry. I really don’t know why except I felt like I was rescuing myself from near-death heart attack. The doctors are right, take it early before ischemia becomes established. It’s harder to rid yourself of it once it’s entrenched. If your ischemia is “refractory”, as in the tablet or spray works for a bit, then the pain comes back, you are in a chronic deficit due to your activities, emotions or temperature (or other reasons). This means your body wants you to lie down and let it recover.

    4) When I decided to switch to a low dose 12 hour nitro capsule (Nitro-Time), it gave me more capacity generally. I highly recommend this if you need to spray more often. After a few days of taking this, and yes, you can take it just during the day or on a 24 hour basis, the mild headache will subside. Better yet, take a Tylenol when you take the nitro and avoid it completely. Dry eyes are sometimes a side effect of the nitro, so you might need some moisturizing drops (not Visine).

    5) Remember that for about 20 minutes, the body can be working to compensate for the lack of oxygen and might have SILENT ISCHEMIA. This condition is not a good thing for your heart, as it’s oxygen deficient. That’s why you shouldn’t wait it out for a long time when you do use nitro. Silent Ischemia can have microscopic level damage, and just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean you should tough it out. As the cardiologist says, use the nitro sooner rather than later. It’s better for your body.

    Last of all, when they suggest using nitro DURING INTERCOURSE (!?!), I think most of us would have to laugh although it’s a serious suggestion. I don’t know too many people who would be in the mood or be determined enough to cheerily spray nitro for that pesky chest pain during sex. (“Hold on sweetheart” ..spray.. “Are you ok?” Said with mouth closed, muffled: “Oh, yea..where were we?”) For most, it would be a slight mood dampener.. But I guess the doctors have to have an answer to give us! Better yet, take the long acting version, or a bit of Xanax prior to the festivities…

    All the best!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      Lovely to hear from you, Mary and thank you for this comprehensive list of handy tips! So interesting about your experience crying when you used your nitro – I often feel like crying, but not from relief at dodging another heart attack. It’s more like: “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! Today is NOT a good day for me to go back into hospital!”


    • Nan Linden October 28, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

      Actually I do know of a couple – they were having sex, and the husband just collapsed & died in front of his Wife. He was never known to have heart trouble. So it was quite a shock for the poor woman.


  67. Sandy August 19, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    I use the nitro pill under the tongue and yes you do get a headache but it doesn’t last long.

    The patch for me was a nightmare. I lived with a constant headache even with the lowest dose. The only thing I disagree with this article is that nitro is no longer “inexpensive”. It is now a level 3 on my insurance which makes it well over $100. in cost. When I first started taking it 20 years ago it was less than $5.00. Due to the cost I take it sparingly I will admit. My other heart medications are expensive and I get thrown in the “donut hole” by mid year and have to pay 100% of my drug cost which I cannot afford to do, therefore some of my medications are taken every other day or not at all.

    I am so scared what is going to happen when Obamacare kicks in. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get off the track. Bottom line is I really do need the nitro on a consistent basis but can’t afford to do so.


    • Carolyn Thomas August 19, 2013 at 8:11 am #

      Hi Sandy – glad your nitro pill seems to do the trick, and minus the headache. A couple years ago, we heard U.S. reports of the price of nitro jumping (up from $69 to $276 for example from one of my readers) amid recalls of some generics. Mine is called Mylan-Nitro 0.4 mg spray – $27 for a 6-month supply; this is a brand name drug available here in Canada. At GoodRx, I found nitro tabs for as little as $8.87 (in Seattle, with their free coupon – just enter the name of your city to find comparable coupon deals).


      • Sandy August 19, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

        You are very fortunate to be able to get it as such a low cost. Unfortunately mine is over $200 so I will be going without it. Here is what the insurance companies don’t seem to understand. When we are denied our medication due to cost, we are in the hospital more and in the long run it is costing them much more. They just don’t seem to get it.


        • Carolyn Thomas August 20, 2013 at 7:28 am #

          Tragic. This is why busloads of American patients take daytrips up to Canada, prescriptions in hand, to buy their meds here. Canadians are fortunate in many ways besides our nitro costs when it comes to health care.


          • Sandy August 20, 2013 at 7:33 am #

            Do you know if we can buy them thru the internet from Canada.


            • Carolyn Thomas August 20, 2013 at 7:47 am #

              Check the bottom of that “buy their meds here” link for more info. Meanwhile, just heard from another American heart patient who says her 30-pill vial of Nitrostat costs $16 from Wal-Mart.


            • chronicconcerns September 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

              I have a friend who buys nitro spray from a Canadian company for about $30 (last time she told me the price. I think that was for two bottles. It was an English brand and they flavor theirs like brandy instead of like peppermint like we have in the states.


    • Anna August 10, 2014 at 9:27 am #

      It cost pennies in other countries and doesn’t require a prescription. 40 capsules for 14 rubles= $0.387. Ask someone to buy who travels.


  68. Julia August 19, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    A great and timely article thank you! I have used all the excuses you listed.

    Now, I am more likely to use my nitro tabs as many questions have been answered.

    Liked by 1 person

  69. Bronwyn Elaine August 19, 2013 at 6:24 am #

    The nitro gives me a headache, within 11 minutes, that last for 24-36 hours. I don’t take it for that reason. When I get that excruciating chest pain (angina) I am halted in my tracks. Brought on by exertion or duress, I stop and suffer through approximately 6-7 minutes as the pain subsides. Then I go on without that debilitating nitro headache which always hangs on like I’ve been clubbed with a mallet, leaving me sensitive to light and sound and incapable of doing much more than crying in the dark for a full day.

    Would the spray be better? The patches bring in a dull, lasting headache within an hour. I don’t use nitro for the aforementioned reason; debilitating, long-lasting headache.


    • Carolyn Thomas August 19, 2013 at 6:45 am #

      Hello Bronwyn – yikes! That’s quite a reaction to your nitro! I’m assuming that your nitro patch was the lowest dose possible (0.2). Not sure if there’s any difference in side effects between spray, pills or patch – consult your doc for this; doctors should be made aware of cases like yours. If your community has a Regional Pain Clinic, ask your cardio for a referral there, too. My pain specialist told me that heart patients like me, suffering with intractable angina are, sadly, rarely referred to him.

      Many patients experience horrific headaches at the beginning of nitro therapy, but these typically diminish over time. Trouble is, if you’re suffering debilitating 36-hour migraine-like headaches, you’re unlikely to be willing to wait patiently for this kind of pain to subside while your body gradually adapts to nitro. Many times, taking a Tylenol 10-15 minutes before taking nitro can ward off headache (although that appears to be longer than the duration of your chest pain). Again, consult your cardiologist on this. Also read this article about TENS therapy for angina (my cardiologist prescribed this non-invasive, non-drug therapy for me a few years ago, and wearing my TENS unit morning to night has significantly reduced my need for nitro). Best of luck to you!


  70. Sharon August 19, 2013 at 5:00 am #

    You write the most thorough and informative posts! Each and every one is amazing. They have a way of making my life seem more “normal” as I learn to live with chronic angina. Thank you for all you do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 19, 2013 at 6:16 am #

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Sharon. Thanks also for introducing me to your blog – I love it and just subscribed this morning!
      Take care,


      • Mirjami August 24, 2013 at 9:24 am #

        What a great recherche about the “wonder drug”, Carolyn. Thank you for that.

        I also read the “Coronary Artery Entrapment” of Dr. Lown. With my own almost 30 years experience with nitroglycerin I would undersign every word of Dr. Lown. I have used nitro tablets (5mg to bite) in all 8 circumstances and I still use.

        Like you I would not leave the house without my pills. It was so good to read about Dr. Lown and get confirmed my own ideas. I do not get any headache from 5 mg tablets. Nitro spray I do not like. They give it in the hospital and I get headache of it. Tablets have another advantage: You can take them secretly. It could be a bonbon. I do not make much fuss of taking nitro or not. Nowadays I could say I have taken nitro tablets more prophylactically than before.

        I 2003 I met a 50 year old woman. She was in rehab with me. She did not even know what nitro spray or tablets were. She had got a stent and had had a sudden cardiac arrest.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Carolyn Thomas August 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

          Thanks so much for your comment here, Mirjami, and for reminding us of one big advantage of nitro pills – you can take them without drawing any attention to what you’re doing! Can’t do that when you’re spraying nitro. . . P.S. That rehab story is incredible, isn’t it?


          • chronicconcerns September 3, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

            I think it rather looks like breath spray, myself. Also the spray has a 2 year shelf life and does not start degrading as soon as you open the bottle like the tablets. I got caught out with tabs that were too old at yoga one time. They were maybe 6 weeks post opening the bottle and somewhat weak at that point. I almost had them call EMS for me that time. I had to take 5 to get things calmed down.

            The spray has never let me down, and I am a frequent user.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Carolyn Thomas September 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

              Yes! Good idea – think of nitro as if it were breath spray. The spray can last 2-3 years before degrading (check the expiry date on the canister). Here’s a good tip to figure out how much is left in your spray canister: Place it in a bowl of water. The closer the canister floats to the surface of the water, the less medicine is left inside. Cool ay?


              • Bronwyn Elaine Streich September 4, 2013 at 7:34 am #

                Those of you who can use nitro are lucky. I have no relief from the pain (unless I just sit still and never get upset). Nitrostat gives me a whopping headache that lasts nearly a day. I have tried tablets and patches to no avail. Even the patch for a short period brings the horrible headache. I feel helpless against microvascular coronary disorder. Thank you for listening.


                • Carolyn Thomas September 4, 2013 at 7:40 am #

                  Bronwyn, has your cardiologist considered TENS therapy for angina? Non-invasive, non-drug.


                  • Bronwyn Elaine Streich September 4, 2013 at 8:05 am #

                    Yes, we tried that after I read about it on this site. It did not work for me, seemed to exacerbate the issue. Now I’ve been told that I have had an arrythmia since 2009. I am scheduled to see an electrophysiologist. It’s like what came first? The chicken or the egg? I feel like the doctors I’ve seen either don’t care or don’t know how to treat me. Look at all the heart meds available! Is there a combination that could bring relief? Thank you,



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    […] …or jaw pain that’s linked to heart issues can decrease when the coronary vasodilator called nitroglycerin is taken, and can also occur at the same time along with chest, neck, shoulder or throat… […]


  2. Purathrive - December 21, 2016

    […] A cardiologist’s advice on how to use this “wonder drug” – The heart drug called nitroglycerin was once described like this in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: “Newer drugs quickly replace older remedies. This has not been the case with nitroglycerin, now in continuous medical use for … […]


  3. Purathrive Review - October 4, 2016

    […] A cardiologist’s advice on how to use this “wonder drug … – The heart drug called nitroglycerin was once described like this in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: “Newer drugs quickly replace older… … […]


  4. Dragonwalking - April 2, 2016

    […] swollen and ached. My nausea was intense. I had a bottle of Nitrostat, but I had never used it. https://myheartsisters.org/2013/08/19/nitroglycerin/ Both times I have had heart trouble, I went to the hospital. The doctor prescribed the pills last …[…]


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