Lipitor is a statin. It reduces levels of triglycerides and "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood and increases levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. Lipitor is its brand name. People also know it as atorvastatin.

Doctors often prescribe Lipitor and other statins to treat dyslipidemia and to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) in those 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. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimate that having high cholesterol doubles the risk of heart disease.

According to the CDC, in 2011–2012, 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.

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A doctor may prescribe Lipitor if a person has high cholesterol.

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 stop the body from producing bad cholesterol by suppressing an enzyme in the liver, called HMG-CoA reductase. The enzyme is vital for cholesterol production.

Statins reduce the levels of bad cholesterol, and this helps to prevent coronary artery disease and serious complications of CVD, such as angina, stroke, and heart attack.

The first person to synthesize Lipitor was Bruce Roth, in 1985. At first, the producers did not think the drug would be very popular, and they almost stopped development.

In 2016, one source described Lipitor as the "Best-selling drug of all time."

Some people have abnormally high levels of lipids in their blood. The name of this is 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.

Research has linked high lipid levels with a range of diseases and disorders. Lipitor is highly effective at treating people with a high risk of these diseases.

These include:

  • people with diabetes who are over 60 years old
  • those with a personal or significant family history of CVD

CVD includes coronary heart disease, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease. These affect the circulation outside the heart and the brain. People with CVD are at risk of angina and myocardial infarction, or a heart attack.

CVD often stems from:

These can happen when cholesterol accumulates in the blood vessels.

A doctor may prescribe Lipitor to stop many types of CVD from developing or coming back.

Lipitor may give rise to a number of side effects.

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Headaches can be an adverse effect.

The most common ones include:

Lipitor can also increase blood sugar levels, and it can affect liver function in up to 1 in 10 people.

Up to 1 in 100 people may experience less common effects.

These include:

  • a loss of appetite
  • difficulty sleeping
  • visual disturbances
  • tinnitus
  • a skin rash
  • hair loss
  • a fever
  • a general feeling of being unwell
  • inflammation of the liver or pancreas

A urine test may reveal a raised white blood cell count.

Can I have grapefruit?

Patients who use Lipitor should not consume more than 1–2 small glasses of grapefruit juice in a day, because this can affect how the drug works.

What about alcohol?

The patient information leaflet urges people to avoid drinking too much alcohol.

Lipitor is not suitable during pregnancy, as it can affect the development of the unborn child and may be harmful to the fetus.

It is also not suitable for use while breastfeeding, as it is not clear whether the drug can enter the breast milk. If it does, it could harm the infant.

Lipitor contains lactose, so people should speak to their doctor before using it if they have a lactose intolerance.

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, including some antibiotics and antifungals
  • St. John's Wort

Some interactions could lead to a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, a muscle wasting disease.

As well as using Lipitor, people should follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol, healthful diet.

Q:

My doctor says I have high cholesterol and that I should take Lipitor or another statin, but I felt some side effects when I started, and my neighbor tells me they are very dangerous and I should stop. She saw a program on the TV about it. What should I do?

A:

Common side effects of Lipitor and other statins include headache, nausea, and muscle aches that often go away as your body adjusts.

Regardless if you take a statin or not, lifestyle changes are necessary to reduce the risk of heart disease.

These changes include; not smoking, eating a healthy diet, sitting less and exercising more, and maintaining a healthy waistline of less than 40 inches for men and less than 35 inches for women.

Alan Carter, PharmD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.