Effect of transdermal nitroglycerin or N-acetylcysteine, or both, in the long-term treatment of unstable angina pectoris

J Am Coll Cardiol. 1997 Apr;29(5):941-7. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(97)00005-3.


Objectives: This study was designed to evaluate whether the addition of transdermal nitroglycerin or oral N-acetylcysteine, or both, to conventional medical therapy improves the natural history of unstable angina pectoris.

Background: Transdermal nitroglycerin is widely used to treat angina pectoris, but the development of tolerance is a major problem that may reduce its clinical efficacy. It has been suggested that the addition of N-acetylcysteine to nitroglycerin reverses the development of tolerance, potentiates the hemodynamic response to nitroglycerin and may improve in-hospital prognosis in unstable angina.

Methods: We assessed the efficacy of adding transdermal nitroglycerin or oral N-acetylcysteine, or both, to conventional medical therapy in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 200 patients with unstable angina who were followed up for 4 months.

Results: Outcome events--death, myocardial infarction or refractory angina requiring revascularization--occurred in 31% of patients receiving nitroglycerin, 42% of those receiving N-acetylcysteine, 13% of those receiving nitroglycerin plus N-acetylcysteine and 39% of those receiving placebo (p = 0.0052). Kaplan-Meier curves showed a higher probability (p < 0.01) of no failure of medical treatment in the group receiving both nitroglycerin and N-acetylcysteine than in those receiving placebo, N-acetylcysteine or nitroglycerin alone. The combination of nitroglycerin and N-acetylcysteine was associated with a high incidence of side effects (35%), mainly intolerable headache, which was almost twice as frequent as in patients receiving nitroglycerin alone.

Conclusions: The combination of nitroglycerin and N-acetylcysteine, associated with conventional medical therapy in the long-term treatment of patients with unstable angina, reduces the occurrence of outcome events. However, the high incidence of side effects limits the clinical applicability of this therapeutic strategy at least at the dosage used in the present study.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / adverse effects
  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use
  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Angina, Unstable / drug therapy*
  • Coronary Angiography
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Electrocardiography
  • Free Radical Scavengers / adverse effects
  • Free Radical Scavengers / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Nitroglycerin / administration & dosage
  • Nitroglycerin / adverse effects
  • Nitroglycerin / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasodilator Agents / adverse effects
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Vasodilator Agents
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Acetylcysteine