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Nitroglycerin paste is a medical ointment designed to be applied to the skin. The paste is most frequently used to provide relief from angina chest pain, but it can be used to treat other conditions, such as Raynaud’s phenomenon. The chemical works by relaxing the blood vessels in the area where it is applied, allowing more room for blood to flow.
Medical professionals have used nitroglycerin since the late 19th century to treat angina, a condition that causes chest pain. When used, the medication makes its way to the bloodstream, where it dissolves to produce nitric oxide. The nitric oxide causes cells in blood vessel walls to relax, which allows the veins and arteries to dilate. This, in turn, increases blood flow and reduces blood pressure, relieving angina symptoms.
In pill, form nitroglycerin is taken to relieve angina symptoms when they occur, but when used as an ointment, the active ingredient is released too slowly to have an immediate effect. Instead, the paste is applied on a prescribed schedule, and the medication is released into the skin over several hours. Applied this way, it helps reduce the long-term frequency of angina episodes. This medication is often prescribed for long-term use, although lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and gently exercising may help reduce symptoms as well. A patient should never stop using this drug or change the dosage unless under the direction of a medical professional.
Raynaud’s phenomenon — which includes both Raynaud’s disease and Raynaud’s syndrome — is a condition in which the blood vessels in the hands and feet contract quickly and dramatically in response to cold temperatures, causing the digits to turn blue or yellow. The fingers and toes might also become numb while the capillaries are constricted. Applying the paste to the affected areas can help to increase the flow of blood, restoring color and feeling.
The properties of nitroglycerin in paste form also make it useful for managing the pain caused by anal fissures, or breaks in the anal canal. This treatment is applied directly to the inside of the anus, where it relaxes the anal sphincter and improves blood flow in the area, which can help relieve pain. When used in this way, nitroglycerin paste may be applied for several weeks or months as the area heals.
A study published in 2011 suggests that nitroglycerin paste might increase bone density in post-menopausal women as well. The study measured the increase as a result of daily topical applications of the ointment. Over the two years of the study, bone density increased in the spines and hip bones of women taking the medication.
This form of nitroglycerin has some side effects, including facial and neck flushing, headache, lightheadedness, and nausea. Some people might experience short episodes of heart palpitations, but these are typically not a cause for alarm unless they occur frequently or in conjunction with other, serious symptoms. Many medical professionals recommend that a person using the paste have another person present when applying it the first few times to ensure the patient’s safety should dizziness or fainting occur.
Nitroglycerine does have some potentially serious side effects that require prompt medical attention. These include symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a skin rash, and swelling of face or the tongue. Symptoms of a dangerous reaction to the medication itself can include sweating, dry mouth, unusual fatigue, tiredness or weakness, and a feeling of high pressure in the head.
This paste must be handled with extreme care, because it absorbs into the skin quite quickly and has a strong effect on the areas it touches. As a result, it is generally applied with an applicator such as a syringe or a protective pad, or while wearing disposable gloves. The application area is then usually covered for a period of time as prescribed. Medical professionals usually recommend that a patient apply the paste to a different area each time to protect the skin from overexposure to the drug. If the paste gets onto the skin of another person, he or she should wash the area immediately with soap and water, and seek medical assistance if any side effects occur.
All forms of nitroglycerin, including the paste, can interact with other types of medication in potentially dangerous ways. It can interact with erectile dysfunction drugs, for example, and certain migraine medications, to cause dizziness, visual disturbances, and fainting. Aspirin increases the risk of side effects, while nitroglycerin makes blood thinners less effective. Someone who is using blood pressure medications might experience increased dizziness. In general, a person who is using this medication should consult a professional before taking any new drugs.