Treatment of coronary artery disease is aimed at controlling symptoms and slowing or stopping the progression of disease. The method of treatment is based on many factors determined by your symptoms, a physical exam, and diagnostic testing. In many cases, if the blockage is less than 70 percent and not severely limiting blood flow, medications may be the first line of treatment.

Take your medications

Medications may be needed to help your heart work more efficiently and receive more oxygen-rich blood. The medications you are prescribed depend on you and your specific heart problem. Check the drug search to find out more about your medications.

It is important to know:

  • the names of your medications
  • what they are for
  • how often and at what times to take your medications

Your doctor or nurse should review your medications with you. Keep a list of your medications and bring them to each of your doctor visits. If you have questions about your medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist.


Nitroglycerin is the most common vasodilator used for acute cases of angina. It works to dilate or widen the coronary arteries, increasing blood flow to the heart muscle and to relax the veins, lessening the amount of blood that returns to the heart from the body. This combination of effects decreases the amount of work for the heart.

Nitroglycerin comes in tablet or spray form. If you have angina, it is important that you keep this medication with you at all times.

  • Nitroglycerin must be kept in a dark container.
  • Keep it away from heat or moisture.
  • Check the expiration date on the container.
  • Once the container is opened, it must be replaced every 6 months.

If Angina Occurs...

If you have been prescribed nitroglycerin and experience angina, stop what you are doing and rest. Take one nitroglycerin tablet and let it dissolve under your tongue, or if using the spray form, spray it under your tongue. Wait 5 minutes. If you still have angina after 5 minutes, call 911 to get emergency help.

For patients diagnosed with chronic stable angina:If you experience angina, take one nitroglycerin tablet and let it dissolve under your tongue, repeating every 5 minutes for up to 3 tablets spanning 15 minutes. If you still have angina after taking 3 doses of nitroglycerin, call 911 to get emergency help.

Reference: ACC/AHA 2007 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Unstable Angina/Non–ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2007. 50(7):1-157.

Use of Aspirin with unstable chest pain: After you call 9-1-1, if you do not have a history of aspirin allergy or bleeding, emergency personnel may advise that you chew one full (325 mg) aspirin slowly. It's especially effective if taken within 30 minutes of the onset of symptoms.

Do not drive yourself to the hospital. In many cases, the emergency personnel can begin to give you heart-saving care right away.

To prevent damage to your heart muscle, do not delay seeking medical treatment.