Published May 8th, 2020 by USA Rx
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 95 million American adults have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL (high), while 29 million have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL (very high). High cholesterol levels are caused by a number of factors, some of which can be genetic, but mostly, our sedentary lifestyles and high-fat western diets are to blame. High cholesterol levels can cause plaque to build up on the inside of the blood vessels, which can cause the blood vessels to narrow. Over time, this narrowing prevents blood from reaching the heart, organs, and extremities and can cause a heart attack. Although lifestyle changes make a big difference in the fight to keep cholesterol levels down, some people will also need medication to help keep their cholesterol levels in check. Atorvastatin is one of the most frequently prescribed drugs in the United States, and it can help keep cholesterol levels down in people with high cholesterol.
Atorvastatin was first manufactured under the brand name Lipitor and was patented in 1986. The medication, which belongs to a class of drugs called HMG CoA reductase inhibitors (more commonly referred to as “statins”), was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996 when it was released as Lipitor. Atorvastatin is a prescription drug available in both brand names and generic forms.
Atorvastatin, like other drugs in its class, primarily treats high cholesterol by lowering the blood levels of “bad” cholesterol and increasing the levels of “good” cholesterol in conjunction with lifestyle changes. The medication is also used to lower triglyceride levels; triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. Atorvastatin helps to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other complications in people with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and other risk factors.
If you’re confused by the differences between the types of cholesterol and triglycerides, you’re not alone. The first thing to understand is that we have two types of cholesterol: LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which is considered “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, which is considered “good” cholesterol. Most of the cholesterol in the body is LDL, and when present in excessive quantities, LDL can build up as plaque on the walls of the blood vessels. Over time, this plaque causes the blood vessels to narrow, blocking the flow of blood from the heart and other organs and increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Our “good” cholesterol, or HDL, helps to absorb LDL and carry it back to the liver, where it is flushed from the body. Unlike LDL levels, which you want to keep as low as possible, higher levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk for heart disease and stroke. Doctors calculate your total cholesterol level by adding together the HDL and LDL numbers and combining them with 20 percent of your triglyceride level. Total cholesterol numbers, levels, along with the specific measurements of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides in the body, are used by doctors to decide which treatment plan will be most successful in helping to lower your amount of cholesterol.
Both common and uncommon side effects are associated with atorvastatin. Common side effects associated with atorvastatin that usually do not need medical attention include:
The above side effects are generally mild and do not linger for more than a few days or weeks, so they do not require medical attention. However, if these common side effects persist or you have an allergic reaction, talk to your doctor.
Other adverse effects of atorvastatin are more serious and do require medical attention. Check with your health care provider immediately if you experience any of the following uncommon but serious side effects while taking atorvastatin:
Like other statins, atorvastatin slows the production of cholesterol in the liver, which manufactures cholesterol. As the production of cholesterol in the liver decreases, plaque is less likely to build up on the walls of the arteries and block blood flow to the heart, brain, organs, and extremities. This results in lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
Because atorvastatin is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in America and has been around for decades, the effects and benefits of the medication are well documented. Benefits associated with atorvastatin include:
Although there are many benefits associated with atorvastatin, as listed above, taking the medication also poses some risks. Risks associated with atorvastatin include:
High cholesterol and triglyceride levels can occur in a variety of combinations, each of which is treated differently. Therefore, the recommended dosage for atorvastatin will depend on the condition being treated, the age of the patient, and several other factors. The medication is offered in 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, and 80 mg strengths. Most patients being treated for high cholesterol that requires a low to moderate reduction in LDL levels will start with a dose of 10 to 20 mg taken once daily. Patients requiring a higher LDL reduction may need to take 40 mg per day initially before switching to a maintenance dose. The maintenance dose for most patients seeking an LDL reduction is somewhere between 10 and 80 mg per day, taken once per day. When taken for high triglyceride levels, patients are likely to start at a dose of 10 mg taken once per day, with a maintenance dose of 10 to 80 mg taken once per day. Dosage indications are similar for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Be sure to follow the medical advice of your doctor and drug information including avoiding missed doses, noting any potential drug interactions, and storing the medication at room temperature.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take atorvastatin. Statins like atorvastatin are not considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women due to the risk of congenital abnormalities in the fetus. Additionally, the medication is transferred through breast milk to the infant. Because high cholesterol is a risk factor for disease and is not a disease in itself, there is no reason to take statins for the relatively short duration of pregnancy and breastfeeding, as the risks associated with taking the medication outweigh the benefits.
Atorvastatin should not be taken by people who are allergic to it or to other statins. People who meet some or all of the following criteria should not take atorvastatin:
Atorvastatin is most effective when paired with lifestyle changes in order to be effective. Patients prescribed atorvastatin should work on eating a healthy, balanced diet, weight loss, incorporating regular exercise, and living a healthy lifestyle. It may take several weeks to notice a change in your cholesterol levels.