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Atorvastatin: a powerful statin for cholesterol

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Atorvastatin, available as tablets and marketed as Lipitor, belongs to the statin class of medications. Statins are lipid-regulating drugs that target cholesterol and triglycerides. By reducing the production of "bad cholesterol" (non-HDL cholesterol) from the liver, atorvastatin helps lower triglyceride levels and increase "good cholesterol" (HDL cholesterol) in the body. This action reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular problems like coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, or stroke. HDL cholesterol acts as a carrier, removing non-HDL cholesterol from arteries for elimination by the liver. Atorvastatin requires a prescription.

Who is it for?

Primarily prescribed to adults, atorvastatin can also be used in children in certain cases. It is suitable for individuals with high levels of non-HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, influenced by lifestyle and genetic factors. People with normal lipid levels may also take atorvastatin if they have a high risk of cardiovascular problems.

How to take atorvastatin

Your doctor will determine the appropriate dosage of atorvastatin for you. Typically, one tablet is taken daily. You can consume atorvastatin with or without food at any time of the day. It is advisable to maintain a consistent schedule for taking the medication. To minimize the risk of side effects, it is important to avoid consuming large quantities of grapefruit juice while on atorvastatin (limit intake to one or two small glasses per day). Women of childbearing age must use contraception due to the teratogenic effects of atorvastatin.

Who should avoid the medication?

Do not take atorvastatin if you are allergic to it or any of the listed ingredients. Individuals with a history of liver problems should also avoid using atorvastatin. Pregnant or breastfeeding women are advised against taking this medication. Ideally, women should discontinue atorvastatin three months before attempting to conceive. Those planning to conceive while taking atorvastatin should consult their doctor.

Are there are side effects?

Like all medications, atorvastatin may cause side effects in some individuals. If you experience bothersome side effects, consult your doctor or pharmacist. Common side effects of atorvastatin can include nausea, constipation or diarrhea, stomach upset, headache, sore throat, nosebleeds, and cold-like symptoms such as nasal congestion or sneezing.

It is crucial to monitor for muscle complaints as they can be indicative of rhabdomyolysis, a severe medical condition resulting from muscle breakdown that can lead to kidney damage. It is important to note that the occurrence of rhabdomyolysis with atorvastatin is much lower compared to other statins. Nevertheless, if you develop unexplained muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness, promptly inform your doctor.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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