Prehospital high-dose sublingual nitroglycerin rarely causes hypotension

Prehosp Disaster Med. 2013 Oct;28(5):477-81. doi: 10.1017/S1049023X13008777. Epub 2013 Aug 21.


Introduction: High-dose intravenous nitroglycerin is a common in-hospital treatment for respiratory distress due to congestive heart failure (CHF) with hypertension. Intravenous (IV) nitroglycerin administration is impractical in the prehospital setting. In 2011, a new regional Emergency Medical Services (EMS) protocol was introduced allowing advanced providers to treat CHF with high-dose oral nitroglycerin. The protocol calls for patients to be treated with two sublingual tabs (0.8 mg) when systolic blood pressure (SBP) was >160 mm Hg, or three sublingual tabs (1.2 mg) when SBP was >200 mm Hg, every five minutes as needed. Hypothesis/Problem To assess the protocol's safety, the incidence of hypotension following prehospital administration of multiple simultaneous nitroglycerin (MSN) tabs by EMS providers was studied.

Methods: This study was a retrospective cohort study of patients from a single commercial EMS agency over a 6-month period. Records from patients with at least one administration of MSN were reviewed. For each administration, the first documented vital signs pre- and post-administration were compared. Administrations were excluded if pre- or post-administration vital signs were missing.

Results: One hundred case-patients had at least one MSN administration by an advanced provider during the study period. Twenty-five case-patients were excluded due to incomplete vital signs. Seventy-five case-patients with 95 individual MSN administrations were included for analysis. There were 65 administrations of two tabs, 29 administrations of three tabs, and one administration of four tabs. The mean change in SBP following MSN was -14.7 mm Hg (SD = 30.7; range, +59 to -132). Three administrations had documented systolic hypotension in the post-administration vital signs (97/71, 78/50 and 66/47). All three patients were over 65 years old, were administered two tabs, had documented improved respiratory status, and had repeat SBP of at least 100. The incidence of hypotension following MSN administration was 3.2%. Discussion High-dose oral nitroglycerin administration is a practical alternative to IV nitroglycerin in the prehospital setting when administered by advanced providers. The prehospital protocol for high dose oral nitroglycerin was demonstrated to be safe in the cohort of patients studied. Limitations of the study include the relatively small sample size and the inability to identify hypotension that may have occurred following the cessation of data collection in the field.

Conclusion: Hypotension was rare and self-limited in prehospital patients receiving MSN.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Sublingual
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypotension / chemically induced*
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitroglycerin / administration & dosage
  • Nitroglycerin / adverse effects*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vasodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasodilator Agents / adverse effects*


  • Vasodilator Agents
  • Nitroglycerin