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Discharge Instructions: Taking Fast-Acting Nitroglycerin

Your doctor prescribed nitroglycerin for you. This medication relieves angina (chest pain caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart) by getting more oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Fast-acting nitroglycerin can stop an angina attack. Follow the steps below for taking fast-acting nitroglycerin. Note: Your health care provider may give you slightly different instructions. If so, follow them carefully.

The name of my fast-acting nitroglycerin medication is ________________________________.

To Stop an Angina Attack

Sit down before you take your nitroglycerin. The medication may make you feel dizzy.

Using fast-acting tablets

  • Place 1 tablet under your tongue. You can also place it between your lip and gum, or between your cheek and gum.

  • Let the tablet dissolve completely. Don’t swallow or chew the tablet.

  • As the tablet is dissolving, do not eat or drink anything, or smoke or chew tobacco.

Using fast-acting spray

  • Open your mouth and hold the sprayer just in front of your mouth.

  • Press the button on the top. Spray once on or under your tongue. Do not inhale.

  • Close your mouth. Then wait a few seconds before you swallow.

After taking 1 tablet or spraying once

  • Continue sitting for 5 minutes.

  • If the angina goes away completely, rest for a while and continue your normal routine.

Call 911 if your angina lasts longer than 5 minutes and 1 tablet or 1 spray has not relieved it. Do not delay — you may be having a heart attack, also known as acute myocardial infarction, or AMI!

After you call 911, take a second tablet. Or, spray a second time. Wait another 5 minutes. If the angina still does not go away, take a third tablet, or spray a third time. Do not take more than 3 tablets, or spray more than 3 times, within 15 minutes. Stay on the phone with 911 for further instructions. 

Precautions

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Too much alcohol can cause dizziness or fainting.

  • Do not take phosphodiesterase inhibitors — medicines used to treat sexual dysfunction in men — at any time if you are on nitroglycerin treatment. The combination of nitroglycerin with these medicines can cause a severe drop in blood pressure. This can lead to dizziness, fainting, heart attack, or stroke.

  • Check the expiration date. Nitroglycerin can lose its effectiveness over time.

  • Tell your doctor if your angina attacks last longer, occur more often, or are more severe. 

Possible Side Effects of Nitroglycerin

If you have any of these side effects, tell your doctor right away. But don’t stop taking the medication until your doctor tells you to. Mild side effects include the following:

  • More gas (flatulence) than normal

  • Bloating

  • Nausea

  • Hair loss

  • Decreased appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Flushing (redness of the face, neck, or chest)

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor immediately if you have any of the following:

  • Severe headache

  • Severe dizziness, or fainting

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fast heartbeat (higher than 100 beats per minute)

  • Swollen ankles

  • Weakness

  • Angina attacks that last longer, occur more often, or are more severe than in the past

Online Medical Reviewer: Brown, Kim, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2/19/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.