The organic nitrates are a safe and effective choice for the management of ischemic syndromes related to coronary heart disease. Although the anti-ischemic effects of these compounds have been recognized for more than a century, the mechanisms by which they exert their beneficial effects are still being delineated. In addition to their well-established venodilative activity, nitrates are now known to cause vasorelaxation of coronary arteries, coronary stenoses, and coronary collateral vessels and to prevent episodic coronary constriction. An antiplatelet effect has also been hypothesized. The three nitrate compounds currently available in the United States—nitroglycerin, isosorbide dinitrate, and isosorbide mononitrate— are provided in a variety of dosage forms, including sublingual, transmucosal, oral, and transdermal preparations. The rapid- but short-acting nitrate preparations are useful in arresting and preventing acute attacks of angina pectoris, whereas longer-acting oral and transdermal formulations are indicated for the relief of chronic symptomatic and asymptomatic ischemia. The intermittent nitrate dosing regimens introduced in recent years have reduced the likelihood of tolerance, which greatly limited the usefulness of long-acting nitrates in the past. Intravenous infusion of nitroglycerin is particularly appropriate for the management of unstable angina and the early complications of acute myocardial infarction. Preliminary evidence suggests that intravenous nitroglycerin may also be beneficial in preventing postinfarction ventricular remodeling, although it cannot yet be recommended for this purpose.
(Arch Intern Med. 1995;155:357-364)