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Ask the doctor: Should I take nitroglycerin during exercise?

Updated: June 01, 2007

Ask the doctor

Should I take nitroglycerin during exercise?

Q. I have had a prescription for nitroglycerin (Nitrostat) for a number of years, but I rarely need to use it. Every once in a while, though, when I am on the treadmill, I feel my chest start to tighten up. I stop, take a pill, then continue exercising without any chest pain. The result is a great workout; the only drawback is a short-term mild headache. Some years ago, I read a column by a doctor who said it would be "ludicrous" to take nitroglycerin in order to continue exercising. What do you think?

A. My colleagues and I routinely advise our patients who develop chest pain on exertion (angina) to take nitroglycerin before they exercise in order to prevent an attack. Taking a pill in the middle of an exercise session is a little different. I tell my patients that if they have an angina attack while exercising to stop and take it easy for a few hours rather than getting right back on the treadmill.

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