Cardiovascular Drugs and Therapy

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 735–742 | Cite as

Nitrate tolerance, rebound, and their clinical relevance in stable angina pectoris, unstable angina, and heart failure

  • Udho Thadani
Coronary Artery Disease


Vascular tolerance develops rapidly in isolated vascular strips exposed to millimolar concentrations of nitroglycerin. Several mechanisms, including depletion of sulfhydryl groups, reduced biotransformation of nitrates to NO or nitrosothiols, oxygen free radical injury, and downregulation of a membrane-bound enzyme or a nitrate receptor, have been proposed, but the exact mechanism responsible for in-vitro tolerance remains unknown. In-vivo tolerance of the beneficial effects of nitrates on hemodynamics, myocardial ischemia, and exercise performance develops rapidly. It has been suggested, but remains to be proven, that development of venous tolerance and not arterial tolerance is responsible for the attenuation of nitrate effects during long-term nitrate therapy. Several mechanisms, including neurohormonal activation, depletion of sulfhydryl groups, and the shift of fluid from the extravascular to intravascular compartment have been implicated. However, the use of agents to counteract these mechanisms (ACE inhibitors, sulfhydryl donors, diuretics) has produced conflicting results. Thus, at present the mechanism responsible for in vivo tolerance to nitrates remains unknown. Both in vitro and in vivo vascular tolerance to nitrates can be prevented or minimized by providing nitrate-free or low-nitrate intervals. However, during nitrate-free periods, rebound phenomena (rest angina in patients with ischemic heart disease or a deterioration in exercise performance prior to the renewal of the morning dose in patients with stable angina) remain a clinicla concer. When treating patients with stable angina pectoris, it must be recognized that none of the nitrate preparations or formulations can provide round-the-clock antianginal or antiischemic prophylaxis. In these patients, beneficial antianginal and anti-ischemic effects of nitrates for 10–14 hours during the day-time can be maintained by using formulations and dosing regimens that avoid or minimize the development of tolerance (standard formulation of isosorbide-5-mononitrate, 20 mg in the morning and 7 hours later; slow-release formulation of isosorbide-5-mononitrate, 120–240 mg once a day; or nitroglycerin patch delivering 0.6 nitroglycerin per hour for 10–12 hours each day). Only the patch on an off treatment is associated with nitrate rebound. Although intermittent nitrate therapy is not associated with the development of tolerance, this strategy cannot be recommended for treating unstable angina because rebound angina during nitrate-free periods complicates clinical decision making. In the acute phase of unstable angina, continuous treatment with intravenous nitroglycerin is recommended because it permits rapid up- or down-titration. Tolerance towards antianginal and antiischemic effects does develop in a substantial number of patients within 24 hours, but this can be overridden by dose escalation and restoration of the therapeutic effectiveness of nitroglycerin. Tolerance towards the beneficial effects of nitrates on hemodynamics and on exercise performance also develops rapidly during continuous or long-term nitrate therapy, and for these reasons nitrates are not used as first-line therapy to treat chronic heart failure. In combination with hydralazine, high-dose isosorbide dinitrate (30–40 mg four times a day) improves survival, but this combination therapy is inferior to ACE inhibitors.

Key Words

nitrate tolerance rebound stable angina pectoris unstable angina heart failure 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Udho Thadani
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Health Sciences CenterUniversity of OklahomaOklahoma CityUSA
  2. 2.VA Medical CenterOklahoma CityUSA

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