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Atorvastatin (Generic Lipitor): Uses, Dosage & Side Effects

Atorvastatin
A package and pill of atorvastatin 40mg (Lipitor).
Credit: Creative Commons

Atorvastatin is a prescription medicine used to treat high cholesterol. It is marketed as a calcium salt under the brand name Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium), produced by Pfizer. It is also available as a generic medicine.

Atorvastatin is a member of the drug class HMG-CoA inhibitor (statin). Atorvastatin works by potentially decreasing the production of cholesterol in the body through blocking the cholesterol-producing enzyme in the liver. Consequently, the amount of cholesterol (a fat-like substance) that collects in the arteries may be reduced. Cholesterol in arteries may block blood flow to the heart, brain, and other parts of the body, leading to heart attack, stroke, chest pain, and other problems.

Atorvastatin may also decrease the need for heart surgery in patients who have or are developing heart disease, though the National Institutes of Healthstresses that it must be used in combination with increased exercise, careful diet, and weight loss.

Dosage

Atorvastatin calcium’s potency is dosage-related, meaning that the higher the dose, the more cholesterol is inhibited. Typical doses are 10, 20, 40, or 80 mg daily, and the usual starting dose is 10-20 mg daily. Doctors may increase dosages gradually. Dosage should not be increased more than once every two to four weeks.

Atorvastatin calcium comes in an oral tablet that is usually taken once a day. It should be taken at the same time every day, and can be taken with or without food. The tablet should not be crushed or chewed. It is important that patients continue to take atorvastatin even if they feel well.

If a dose is missed, it should be taken as soon as remembered unless there are less than 12 hours until the next scheduled dose. In this case, the missed dose should be skipped. Patients should not take a double dose to make up for a missed one.

 

Side effects

Atorvastatin calcium may cause side effects. The NIH lists the following as less serious, though a doctor should be consulted if they persist or become severe:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • gas
  • headache
  • joint pain
  • forgetfulness or memory loss
  • confusion

The NIH lists the following symptoms as uncommon but serious. If a patient experiences any of them, a doctor should be consulted immediately:

  • muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness
  • lack of energy
  • fever
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • extreme tiredness
  • weakness
  • unusual bleeding or bruising
  • loss of appetite
  • pain in the upper right part of the stomach
  • flu-like symptoms
  • dark colored urine
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • rash
  • hives
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • hoarseness

Diet

It is important for patients taking atorvastatin calcium to maintain a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. If a diet or exercise plan is prescribed by a doctor or dietician, it should be followed.

Alcohol intake should be limited, as it may increase the risk of liver problems when combined with atorvastatin. The NIH recommends telling a doctor if you drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day, and warns that drinking alcohol can “increase the risk of serious side effects.”

No more than one quart of grapefruit juice should be consumed per day while taking atorvastatin.

Precautions

Women who are breast-feeding or pregnant should not take atorvastatin. The NIH warns that taking atorvastatin while pregnant may harm the fetus. If a woman is planning to become pregnant, she should tell her doctor before taking atorvastatin, and if she becomes pregnant while taking the medicine, she should stop taking it immediately.

It is important that patients tell their doctors what prescription and non-prescription medicines they are taking before beginning a atorvastatin prescription. Antifungal medications, birth control pills, and other cholesterol-inhibiting medications should especially be noted.

Patients should tell their doctor if they have any history of liver, kidney, or thyroid disease; diabetes; or seizures.

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