Lipitor and other statins are commonly used to treat dyslipidemia and to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) in people who are at high risk.
If a person has dyslipidemia, or hyperlipidemia, they have a high level of cholesterol, triglycerides, or both, in the blood.
CVD is the leading cause of illness and death in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2011 to 2012, nearly 28 percent of adults aged 40 years and over were using some kind of prescription drug to lower cholesterol. This was an increase of nearly 8 percent since 2003. Of these, 1 in 5 were using atorvastatin.
What do statins do?
Statins are used to control cholesterol and triglycerides.
Lipitor belongs to a class of drugs called HMG CoA reductase inhibitors, commonly known as statins. Other statins include fluvastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin, and simvastatin.
Statins prevent the production of bad cholesterol by suppressing an enzyme in the liver, called HMG-CoA reductase. The enzyme is vital for cholesterol production.
Lipitor was first synthesized by Bruce Roth in 1985. At first, the producers did not think the drug would be very popular, and they almost stopped development.
Now, according to The Conversation, Lipitor is the "Best-selling drug of all time."
Uses of Lipitor
Some people have abnormally high levels of lipids in their blood. This is known as dyslipidemia, or hyperlipidemia.
Lipids are a broad group of many different organic compounds, including fats, fat-soluble vitamins, sterols, waxes, phospholipids, diglycerides, monoglycerides, and triglycerides.
High lipid levels are associated with a range of diseases and disorders. Lipitor is highly effective at treating people who are at risk of a number of these.
This includes people with diabetes who are over 60 years old, and those with a personal or significant family history of CVD.
CVD includes coronary heart disease, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease, which affects the circulation outside the heart and the brain. People with CVD are at risk of angina and myocardial infarction, or a heart attack.
Lipitor can be prescribed to prevent the recurrence or development of many types of CVD.
Lipitor is associated with a number of side effects.
The most common ones include headache, joint, muscle and back pain, nausea and digestive problems, inflammation of the nasal passages, throat pain and nose bleeds. Lipitor can also increase blood sugar levels, and it can affect liver function. These affect up to 1 in 10 people.
Up to 1 in 100 people may experience less common effects include anorexia, difficulty sleeping, visual disturbances, and tinnitus, skin rash and hair loss, fever, and a feeling of being unwell. A urine test may reveal a raised white blood cell count.
Patients who use Lipitor should not consume more than one or two small glasses of grapefruit juice in a day, because this can affect how the drug works.
Pregnant women should not take Lipitor as it can affect prenatal development and harm the fetus. It is also advised that women who are breastfeeding should not take the medication, as it is still unknown whether the drug enters breast milk, potentially harming the infant.
Lipitor contains lactose, so patients who are lactose intolerant should inform their doctor before using it.
A number of medications can interact with Lipitor. Patients should take care if they are also using medications that change the way the immune system works. These include some antibiotics and antifungals. St. John's Wort should not be used with it.
Some interactions could lead to a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, a muscle wasting disease.
In 2015, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a warning that Lipitor had been linked with myositis, or muscle inflammation.
As well as using Lipitor, patients are urged to follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol healthy diet.