What is Atorvastatin: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Dr. Diana Rangaves, PharmD, RPh

NowRx Contributor 

Atorvastatin is a common prescription medication used to improve cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for heart attack or stroke. Also known by the brand name Lipitor, it is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States.

Let’s take a look at atorvastatin, what it’s used for, and everything else you need to know.

What is Atorvastatin Used For?

Atorvastatin is a type of statin medication.

Statins are medicines that doctors prescribe for lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease, and staving off strokes. Your doctor might recommend a statin to you if you are going through a specific medical condition such as high cholesterol or a risk of heart disease. They may also recommend it to you if you are dealing with any long-term health issue, such as diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2.

This medication is only available through a prescription. It comes in tablet form, both regular and chewable. The chewable tablets are for young patients or anyone having issues with swallowing pills. 

Statins are the first-line treatment for those in danger of cardiovascular issues, especially if they already have diabetes and/or high blood cholesterol. Unsurprisingly, Atravastin was among the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. in 2019. It is also on the list of the WHO’s List of Essential Medicine.

The patent for atorvastatin was developed in 1986, and the drug was medically approved in the U.S. in 1996. Today, it is also available in generic form.  

Atorvastatin brand names

The most common brand name for atorvastatin is Lipitor. The generic name for it is atorvastatin systemic. Doctors usually prescribe atorvastatin in brand-name or generic form for treating high cholesterol, types of hyperlipoproteinemia, prevention of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.

There is also a multi-ingredient medication that includes atorvastatin systemic. The brand name for this is Caduet. Caduet falls in the drug classes of miscellaneous antihypertensive combinations and antihyperlipidemic combinations. This drug is for treating various issues, including: 

  • Angina
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

Finally, there is yet another brand name for atorvastatin/ezetimibe systemic, called Liptruzet. This comes under the drug class of antihyperlipidemic combinations. Its main role is to treat high cholesterol.

Atorvastatin Mechanism of Action

Statins like atorvastatin are also sometimes called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. These usually work through enzyme blocking. In this case, the blocked enzyme is HMG-CoA reductase. We need this enzyme for our body to produce cholesterol. So, a statin that blocks it will usually lower dangerous cholesterol levels. 

38% of adults in the U.S suffer from high levels of bad cholesterol. In such cases, doctors are likely to counsel their patients to eat a healthier diet and get more exercise. They will probably also suggest taking a statin medication alongside these lifestyle changes. 

Unlike many other kinds of statins, atorvastatin is completely synthetic. Its effect also includes increasing LDL (low-density lipoprotein) receptors by hepatocytes. This will create the levels of LDL-cholesterol in the user’s bloodstream. Atorvastatin also works to reduce triglyceride levels in our blood and slightly enhance the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol.

A high dose of atorvastatin can also help to stabilize the plaque buildup in patients with acute coronary syndromes. With a high dosage, statins also act as anti-inflammatories, increase endothelial function, and help to reduce the core of necrotic plaque. 

What are the Most Common Side Effects of Atorvastatin?

The most common unwanted side effects of atorvastatin may include: 

  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in muscles
  • Heartburn or acidity
  • Diarrhea or other digestive issues
  • Memory loss (uncommon)
  • Confusion

Taking atorvastatin or any statins during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding can cause harm to the fetus or baby. So, a doctor will usually not prescribe them during such phases. In rare cases, statins like atorvastatin might worsen diabetes or even cause it. Before starting any kind of statin, you should seek your doctor’s advice.

Some of the more uncommon side effects might be problematic. So, make sure to contact a medical professional if these occur:

  • Rhabdomyolysis 
  • Autoimmune myopathy
  • Muscle pain paired with unusual fatigue
  • Kidney problems such as dark urine 
  • Yellowing skin or yellow eyes whites–a sign of liver issues
  • Skin rashes
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing, shortness of breath

The above lists of side effects are not exhaustive or complete. If any of these persist even after stopping the drug or affect your ability to lead a normal lifestyle, you should seek medical assistance immediately. 

Statin Comparison

Atorvastatin is far from being the only statin meditation in the market today. However, it certainly does differ in effect, dosage, and in many other ways from other statins. Below is a comparison between atorvastatin and the most common alternatives. 

Atorvastatin vs. simvastatin

Atorvastatin and simvastatin both belong to a drug class called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors or statins. They are both for lowering LDL cholesterol levels. However, they have some differences in available strengths and methods of dosage.

Let’s look at these now: 

  • We can take atorvastatin at any time of the day while Simvastatin is for evening dose only
  • Atorvastatin stays in the body for a longer time than Simvastatin 
  • Simvastatin is more likely to cause muscle pain and weakness
  • Simvastatin is a kind of prodrug, which means that it needs mobilizing and processing in the liver (unlike atorvastatin)

Pravastatin vs. atorvastatin

Pravastatin and atorvastatin are both used to treat high cholesterol, however, pravastatin is metabolized in the stomach while atorvastatin is metabolized in the liver. Other differences include:

  • Pravastatin might cause fewer unwanted side effects and is also safer than atorvastatin for the liver and kidneys
  • Atorvastatin is a stronger and more effective drug for most users with high cholesterol, triglycerides, and heart issues
  • Atorvastatin is more expensive

Rosuvastatin vs. atorvastatin

Rosuvastatin is another alternative to atorvastatin. Pfizer makes atorvastatin’s brand, Lipitor, while AstraZeneca manufactures Rosuvastatin under the brand name Crestor. Here is how they compare:

  • The average dosage for atorvastatin is slightly higher than Rosuvastatin (20 mg vs. 10mg)
  • Rosuvastatin might be suitable for slightly younger children (7 years) than atorvastatin (10 years)
  • Some studies show that Rosuvastatin is slightly more effective than atorvastatin in reducing LDL cholesterol

When to Take Atorvastatin: Morning or Night?

The recommended practice is to take this drug once daily. The time of the day does not matter, but the time of taking it must remain the same each day. Some doctors might recommend consuming atorvastatin at night to enhance its effect. This might be because the body produces most of its cholesterol at that time. 

Questions About Atorvastatin

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