A look at the medical benefits of nitroglycerin

  • Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, March 25, 2012 8:12 p.m.

I am sure that you have heard of the medical uses of nitroglycerin, but did you know that it was first synthesized in 1847 by an Italian chemist and that it was a dangerous liquid explosive?Several explosions occurred, and many people were killed until Alfred Nobel developed a way to mix the dangerous liquid form with solids, and, eventually this was called dynamite. Naturally, Nobel patented his discovery and the rest is history. As early as 1878, physicians began experimenting with nitroglycerin and found that it could help relieve angina pectoris or chest pains caused by coronary artery disease.It was found to reduce blood pressure as well. Physicians began using the term •glyceryl trinitrate• as opposed to the word nitroglycerin because they thought that it would not scare patients as much. Nitroglycerin is converted to nitric oxide in our body's cells, and this substance is a natural vasodilator in that it widens blood vessels, improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure.Nitroglycerin is now used medically in tablet form often under the tongue, and it is also used as a spray, a patch, intravenously and as a paste. Most often, nitroglycerin is used as a cardiac medication, but there are some gastrointestinal uses such as for the treatment of diffuse esophageal spasm. A friend and colleague, Dr. Al Waraich, told me of an interesting story about a patient who would faint every morning just after brushing his teeth. Upon further questioning it was found that the patient had been brushing his teeth with nitroglycerin paste instead of applying it to his skin in paste form as treatment for heart disease. Nitroglycerin is indeed a potent vasodilator and can lower blood pressure fairly rapidly.David Keisler is a gastroenterologist and internist in Aiken and has been out of medical school for 37 years.

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