Nitroglycerin or Aspirin – which is best for a heart attack victim?

When a person is experiencing a heart attack, should you give them Aspirin or Nitroglycerin?

If you suspect that a person is having a heat attack, the most important thing to do is to call 9-1-1 immediately. Don’t do anything before calling 9-1-1.

Heart attacks are usually caused by atherosclerosis (the build up of plaque on the artery walls), and complicated by thrombosis (blood clots) in the heart vessels. Anti thrombotic treatment should happen as soon as possible after a heart attack. Aspirin (ASA) helps slow down the formation of clots.

It is recommended that a person experiencing a heart attack chew 160 to 325 mg of ASA – either two low-dose (81mg) tablets or one regular strength (325 mg) tablet.

Taking ASA is not advised during a stroke, because not all strokes are caused by blood clots. Most strokes are caused by clots, but some are caused by ruptured blood vessels. Taking ASA could potentially make these bleeding strokes more severe.

Nitroglycerin “Nitro” is a symptom relief medication and does not target the underlying cause of the heart attack. First Aiders should focus on helping the person take ASA over nitroglycerin, as long as there is no contraindication. Remember to ask “Are you allergic to aspirin?”

For more information on giving aspirin during a heart attack or stroke please follow this link:

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  1. I can’t find an answer to this question. If I believe my mother may be having a heart attack do I give her both an aspirin and one of her nitro pills? Or should I give her the nitro and wait? If so, how long do I wait before giving her an aspirin after the nitro? It can take EMT’s too long to arrive so I need to know what to do in the mean time.

    • Thank you for your question Christine. I am unable to give specific medical advice. Please check with your mother’s doctor. Thank you.

    • Hello Renee,
      Thank you for your question. Nitroglycerin is an unstable substance and should not be stored in the same container as other medications. Please ask your pharmacist about suitable containers for storing your pills. Please follow this link for more info from the Canadian Medical Association Journal:
      I hope this helps.
      Gill McCulloch

    • Hello Jagpreet,
      Thank you for your question. Nitro is a drug that tends to lower blood pressure. Please check with your doctor to see if it is safe to take with your blood pressure medication.

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