Your Care Explained > Medications : Nitrates

Nitrates are one of the oldest medications for chest pain, or angina. They are routinely used to reduce the burden on the heart to allow people with cardiovascular disease to exercise and live more normally.

How Nitrates Work

Nitrates dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the heart and reducing blood pressure so the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood through the body.

How Nitrates Are Taken

Nitrates are available as tablets that are dissolved under the tongue, and as a mouth spray for immediate relief of chest pain. They are also available as longer-acting tablets and sustained-release patches for long-term use.

Special Considerations

Nitrates can cause some unpleasant side effects, such as a sudden, severe headache and a feeling that one’s head is about to burst. Some people also develop tolerance to them and they lose their effectiveness over time. However, your doctor can help to identify a form and dose of nitrates, perhaps in combination with other medications, that is best for you.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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