Nitroglycerin: A blast from the past remains a trusted standby

Nitrates offer quick, effective relief from a common heart disease symptom, often for just pennies per dose.

Nitroglycerin, a key component of dynamite, is also famous for relieving the crushing chest pain known as angina. The drug's discovery allegedly arose from the observation that some workers in a dynamite factory complained of chest pains only when they went home at night. The reason? They were having withdrawal from nitroglycerin in the air at work, which opened their coronary arteries. The plain old air at home didn't.

Nearly 130 years later, nitroglycerin remains a mainstay for many people with heart disease. If your heart's arteries are narrowed from plaque buildup, a sudden increase in the heart's demand for oxygen-rich blood from physical exertion or emotional stress can trigger angina. Nitroglycerin provides almost instantaneous relief by widening coronary arteries and easing the heart's workload. The under-the-tongue (sublingual) form of nitroglycerin is perhaps the best known and least expensive version. But nitroglycerin and other nitrates (namely, isosorbide mononitrate and isosorbide dinitrate) come in several forms.

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