What Is Atorvastatin – Side Effects, Uses, and FAQs

Written by Phil Rossi, Dr. Diana Rangaves, PharmD, RPh

NowRx Contributor 


Atorvastatin is one of the most common prescription medications in the United States with a staggering 100 million+ prescriptions written per year. Commonly sold under the brand name Lipitor, it is used to improve cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about this commonly prescribed medication.

What Is Atorvastatin

Atorvastatin is a prescription medication that belongs to a class of drugs called statins. Sometimes called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, statins inhibit a key enzyme in the liver needed to produce cholesterol.

While atorvastatin is the generic medication name, Lipitor is the most common brand name. Lipitor is prescribed to over 29 million patients.

What is atorvastatin used for?

Atorvastatin is used for lowering the risk of heart attack, stroke, and certain types of heart surgery in patients who have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease. The risk factors for heart disease include:

Additionally, your doctor might recommend this medication if you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes alongside risk factors such as eye problems, kidney problems, high blood pressure, or a history of smoking.

Patients that are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use atorvastatin. In addition, this drug should be avoided for individuals with liver problems or a known allergy to the medication. Always talk with your doctor before starting, stopping, or making any change to your medication regimen.

How does atorvastatin work?

Atorvastatin works by blocking a key enzyme in the liver called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor. This enzyme is needed to produce cholesterol. As a result, by blocking this key enzyme, atorvastatin reduces the amount of dangerous cholesterol in our bodies.

Atorvastatin also works to reduce triglyceride levels in our blood and enhance the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol.

When To Take Atorvastatin Morning or Night

Deciding when to take atorvastatin in the morning or night is a matter of personal preference. In other words, it is completely fine to take this once a day pill in the morning or night unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Additionally, atorvastatin can be taken with or without food.

However, it is important to note that you should try to take your medication at about the same time every day. This will help build and reinforce the habit of remembering to take your medication which can help increase medication adherence and improve overall health outcomes.

What Are The Most Common Side Effects of Atorvastatin

The most common side effects of atorvastatin include diarrhea, upset stomach, muscle and joint pain, as well as alterations in some laboratory blood tests.

Additional side effects may also include:

  • Fatigue
  • Tendon Problems
  • Memory Loss
  • Confusion

It may also cause some serious side effects in a small number of people including:

  • Muscle problems that can lead to kidney failure
  • Liver Problems
  • Allergic Reaction

The risk of serious side effects is greater if you are taking atorvastatin with other medications. Talk to your doctor before you start any new medications including prescription and non prescription medication, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

Additionally, taking this medication during pregnancy or while breastfeeding can be dangerous. Have a conversation with your doctor if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant. Always talk with your doctor before starting, stopping, or making any change to your medication regimen.

The above lists of side effects is not a complete list. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a complete list of side effects.

Does atorvastatin cause weight gain?

Atorvastatin does not cause weight gain as a side effect. However, some researchers have noted a link between statin medications and weight gain.

While there are many potential reasons for this, one belief is that this association is due to moral hazard. In other words, individuals taking statin medications tend to consume more calories and fats as a result of the security they feel that the medication will protect them. As a result, this causes weight gain in patients taking statins.

It is important to remember that the best health outcomes come from a combination of healthy lifestyle changes in addition to medication.

What Can I Take Instead of Atorvastatin

There are a number of different statins that individuals can take instead of atorvastatin. However, each varies in effect, dosage, and a number of other ways.

Below is a comparison between several common statin medications. Remember to always talk with your doctor before starting, stopping, or making any change to your medication regimen.

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: 

  • Simvastatin is for evening dose only.
  • Simvastatin stays in the body for a shorter duration
  • Muscle pain and weakness is more common with simvastatin

Pravastatin vs. atorvastatin

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

  • Pravastatin might cause fewer unwanted side effects and is also safer for the liver and kidneys
  • Pravastatin is not as effective for most users with high cholesterol, triglycerides, and heart issues.

Rosuvastatin vs. atorvastatin

Rosuvastatin is another alternative to atorvastatin. Here is how they compare:

  • Rousuvastatin has a slightly lower average dose (10 mg vs. 20mg)
  • Rosuvastatin might be suitable for slightly younger ages
  • Some studies show that Rosuvastatin is slightly more effective in reducing LDL cholesterol

Talk with your doctor to determine what the best medication option is for your individual situation.

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