Amyl nitrate, butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite started out as medication for attacks of angina pectoris. Viagra was tested as a heart drug before it was discovered that it had such a pronounced effect on the plumbing of the male sexual organ. Another medication that is available for heart problems, mostly of neonates, prostaglandin E1, is also tested as a drug for men suffering from erectile dysfunction.

Nitroglycerin can alleviate chest pain by relaxing the muscles in the walls of the blood vessels, causing them to dilate. Opening or widening blood vessels results in improved blood flow to the heart. “Also, by dilating veins, nitrates reduce the flow of blood returning to the heart, which reduces the workload or pressure placed on the heart,” Dr. Cannon says.

For best results, take nitroglycerin in the morning on an empty stomach. Having a nitrate-free period overnight can help avoid your developing a tolerance to the medication (where you do not see as much of a benefit), which can be an issue, Cannon advises. Never chew, crush or open nitroglycerin capsules.

That heart medications potentially are effective treatments for erectile dysfunction is no coincidence. Many heart problems have to do with too little oxygen getting there. Heart emergency medications therefore primarily strive to dilate blood vessels supplying the heart. And for erections to occur, a dilation of blood vessels supplying the sex organ is precisely what is needed.

“Preserving heart function is critical to optimal cardiac outcomes,” said George W. Vetrovec, M.D., chair of cardiology at the VCU Pauley Heart Center. “These agents have significant potential to enhance patient outcomes, particularly in high risk circumstances, such as acute heart attacks.”

For several years, Kukreja and his colleagues have studied a class of erectile dysfunction drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors as part of ongoing research into heart protection. The team first investigated sildenafil, and then vardenafil, and found that both compounds were protective when given before a heart attack under experimental conditions.

Nitroglycerin should not be used if drugs for erectile dysfunction have been taken in the last 24 to 48 hours. “Men who are taking medication for erectile dysfunction should not take nitrate medications such as nitroglycerin, or vice versa, because the combination can cause a serious decrease in blood pressure, which could lead to fainting, stroke, or heart attack,” Cannon says.


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