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What Is Amyl Nitrate?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2014
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Amyl nitrate is a confusing term. Most people easily mix it up with a medication called amyl nitrite, and the words are often used interchangeably, though they are definitely not the same thing. To be clear, amyl nitrate is a chemical that is added to fuel, and amyl nitrite is a medication that tends to be used to treat angina, which causes severe chest pain. The focus of this explanation is on the medication, amyl nitrite, and not the fuel additive, amyl nitrate.

The reason amyl nitrite is effective in treating angina is because it belongs to a class of drugs called vasodilators. These relax, open, or dilate blood vessels, and create relief from the constriction that may occur in an angina attack. As blood vessels open, they also reduce blood pressure.

Many people take various forms of oral medications when they have angina and suffer an attack. Amyl nitrite has a different delivery method. It is a liquid medicine that is placed in very small glass tubes. These are surrounded by cloth. When a person has an attack, he crushes the tube in the hand, passes the tube under his nose, and inhales. This is enough to deliver the medication into the body and create the needed blood vessel dilation.

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There are some common side effects with this medication. Directly after use people may have a few minutes of feeling dizzy or faint. It’s not uncommon to be a little bit nauseous, or to feel the heart beating very fast. The face may feel hot and skin on the face may get red. Many people report having a headache that may go away in a few hours. Less common reactions include skin rash, which should be brought to the attention of a physician.

It is these side effects that contribute to the very dangerous practice of amyl nitrite being used for unprescribed purposes. In some countries it may be legal to obtain this medication and use it to get an instant high; the term poppers is used as a street synonym for amyl nitrite. Many people who use this medication in this manner do so to create greater sexual stimulation. This is greatly discouraged by the pharmaceutical industry and the medical world, and is also illegal in a large number of countries.

Of particular concern is combining this medication with Viagra®. The two drugs together create strong risk that blood pressure may drop to extremely low levels, which is a medical emergency. Overdose is another risk, as people who use medications in inappropriate ways may not pay attention to amounts they use. Suspected overdose, which may have symptoms like bluish coloring of extremities, fast but hard to feel pulse, and extreme fatigue, should be considered a medical emergency.

When used as directed and for intended purposes, amyl nitrite may be a very effective drug. It is not always the most appropriate medicine for people with angina. Other drugs might be a better fit, depending on a patient’s other health conditions and needs. Some people don’t like the delivery system either, and prefer to take a pill instead.

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