People with recent heart attacks etc. are prescribed sub-lingual nitroglycerin spray for emergency use when experiencing chest pain.

Does the treatment have any other useful medicinal effect?

If not, and if one is pain-tolerant, then there would be no health risk to not using it (but of course still calling emergency services if the pain persists). But if it does help prevent heart damage, carrying it at all times would be worth the bother.


A comment indicates that I hadn't done any research.
Not true, but I did fail to include any results in the question.

The first 10 relevant items in a Google search for "nitroglycerin spray" resulted in:

Nitroglycerin spray treats chest pain by relaxing your blood vessels. It reduces the amount of work your heart has to do. You can use this spray in your mouth at the first sign of chest pain or a few minutes before an event that causes chest pain occurs.
Nitroglycerin Spray: Uses & Side Effects

Nitroglycerin sublingual tablets usually give relief in 1 to 5 minutes. However, if the pain is not relieved, you may use a second tablet 5 minutes after you take the first tablet.
Nitroglycerin (Oral Route, Sublingual Route) Proper Use - Mayo Clinic

Nitroglycerin spray is used to treat episodes of angina (chest pain) in people who have coronary artery disease
Nitroglycerin Spray: MedlinePlus Drug Information

This medication is used to relieve chest pain (angina) in people that have a certain heart condition (coronary artery disease). It may also be used before physical activities (such as exercise, sexual activity) to help prevent chest pain.
Nitroglycerin Translingual: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing - WebMD
Nitroglycerin Spray - Lingual | HealthLink BC

Nitrates can be used to prevent chest pain (angina), limit the number of angina attacks that you have, relieve the pain of a current attack, or treat the symptoms of heart failure.
Nitroglycerin | Heart and Stroke Foundation

Nitrolingual Pumpspray is a nitrate vasodilator indicated for acute relief of an attack or prophylaxis of angina pectoris due to coronary artery disease.
Nitroglycerin Lingual Spray: Package Insert - Drugs.com

Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator. This is a medicine that widens (dilates) blood vessels. It can relieve angina quickly. That's because it can widen the coronary arteries, which bring blood and oxygen to the heart. This improves blood flow to the heart muscle, which relieves symptoms.
Using Nitroglycerin for Angina

Nitroglycerin is a vasodilatory drug used primarily to provide relief from anginal chest pain. It is currently FDA approved for the acute relief of an attack or acute prophylaxis of angina pectoris secondary to coronary artery disease.
Nitroglycerin - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf

Nitroglycerin is used to prevent angina (chest pain) caused by coronary artery disease. This medicine is also used to relieve an angina attack that is already occurring.
Nitroglycerin (Oral Route, Sublingual Route) Side Effects - Mayo Clinic

Nitroglycerin belongs to the class of medications called anti-anginals. Nitroglycerin is used to relieve acute attacks of angina (chest pain).
Apo-Nitroglycerin - Uses, Side Effects, Interactions - MedBroadcast.com

Notice that every one of them talks about relieving the symptoms.
I couldn't find anything in the articles that explicitly say that the medication has any other significant benefit (in particular, preventing further damage).

That is why I asked the question.


2 Answers 2


NTG relieves of pain for angina pectoris because it affects the cause of the pain, which is ischaemia of cardiac muscle tissue due to a lack of blood flow to and within cardiac muscle tissue due to arteriosclerosis in the coronar arteries.

It does so by widening the blood vessels, which also reduces the load on the heart, which in turn lowers its need of blood (thanks @anongoodnurse for reminding me). Thus, even if it leads to pain relief, it still is a vasodilator by trade.

So, why do your sources only write about angina treatment as if NTG was a pain reliever? Quite simply because chest pain is the cardinal symptom and everything people care about at that moment.

That being said, several of your links speak of dilation of vessels and coronary artery disease, so your question seems unwarranted.


Nitroglycerin, is principally a smooth muscle relaxer. Smooth muscles are the involuntary muscles found in blood vessels and organs, in contrast to the striated muscle that moves the skeleton. Nitroglycerin works by producing nitric oxide (formula NO) chemically; NO is a naturally produced signaling molecule. In the vasculature, smooth muscle tone controls lumen diameter; when smooth muscle relaxes, blood vessels dilate and allow more blood through.

Nitroglycerin is not a pain killer or pain medication. It is taken when chest pain is experienced to assist with the underlying cause of the pain which is not enough blood to the heart muscle, by dilating blood vessels.

It works quickly, but doesn't work for long due to tolerance.

Always follow a physician's directions when prescribed a medication; do not stop taking a medication or changing how and when you take it without checking with your physician or pharmacist.

  • 1
    This is nit-picky, but I think of NTG as a powerful smooth muscle relaxant. The result of smooth muscle relaxation regarding cardiac pain is vasodilation, improving blood flow to cardiac muscle. However, it's also useful for a lot of other smooth muscle-type problems, e.g. esophageal spasms/temporary fix for esophageal obstruction; it even helps with menstrual pain (uterine contractions). Mar 19 at 16:37
  • "Nitroglycerin is not a pain killer or pain medication." — All the popular literature disagrees with that statement. (Note that I'm not claiming it is correct or that you are wrong.) See my update. Mar 19 at 19:04
  • 2
    @RayButterworth - NTG is not a pain reliever. You can cherry pick all you like; it is: a nitrate, an anti-anginal, a smooth muscle relaxant, a vasodilator, and a powerful explosive, among other things. When you run cold water over a burn, the pain is decreased. Does that make this statement, "Cold water is a pain reliever." true? Cold water is not a pain reliever. Cold butter, oil, a pack of frozen peas, and most any other cold thing will reduce the pain of a burn. Mar 19 at 19:21
  • @RayButterworth - There is a sea coral or two that if you brush against it when snorkling/diving causes intense, searing burning to the area. The most effective treatment is to urinate on the affected area (obviously easier for some locations than others.) Does that make the statement, "Urine is a pain reliever." true? Mar 19 at 19:27
  • 1
    @RayButterworth Don't blame the literature for what you don't know or understand. You just didn't look very hard. Just accept it. Mar 19 at 23:26

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