Role of short-acting nitroglycerin in the management of ischemic heart disease

Drug Des Devel Ther. 2015 Aug 19:9:4793-805. doi: 10.2147/DDDT.S79116. eCollection 2015.


Nitroglycerin is the oldest and most commonly prescribed short-acting anti-anginal agent; however, despite its long history of therapeutic usage, patient and health care provider education regarding the clinical benefits of the short-acting formulations in patients with angina remains under-appreciated. Nitrates predominantly induce vasodilation in large capacitance blood vessels, increase epicardial coronary arterial diameter and coronary collateral blood flow, and impair platelet aggregation. The potential for the prophylactic effect of short-acting nitrates remains an under-appreciated part of optimal medical therapy to reduce angina and decrease myocardial ischemia, thereby enhancing the quality of life. Short-acting nitroglycerin, administered either as a sublingual tablet or spray, can complement anti-anginal therapy as part of optimal medical therapy in patients with refractory and recurrent angina either with or without myocardial revascularization, and is most commonly used to provide rapid therapeutic relief of acute recurrent angina attacks. When administered prophylactically, both formulations increase angina-free walking time on treadmill testing, abolish or delay ST segment depression, and increase exercise tolerance. The sublingual spray formulation provides several clinical advantages compared to tablet formulations, including a lower incidence of headache and superiority to the sublingual tablet in terms of therapeutic action and time to onset, while the magnitude and duration of vasodilatory action appears to be comparable. Furthermore, the sublingual spray formulation may be advantageous to tablet preparations in patients with dry mouth. This review discusses the efficacy and utility of short-acting nitroglycerin (sublingual spray and tablet) therapy for both preventing and aborting an acute angina attack, thereby leading to an improved quality of life.

Keywords: angina; coronary artery disease; nitroglycerin spray; nitroglycerin sublingual tablets; optimal medical therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Sublingual
  • Aerosols
  • Animals
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Coronary Circulation / drug effects*
  • Exercise Tolerance / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Ischemia / diagnosis
  • Myocardial Ischemia / drug therapy*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / physiopathology
  • Nitroglycerin / administration & dosage
  • Nitroglycerin / adverse effects
  • Nitroglycerin / therapeutic use*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Tablets
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasodilation / drug effects*
  • Vasodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasodilator Agents / adverse effects
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Aerosols
  • Tablets
  • Vasodilator Agents
  • Nitroglycerin