Atorvastatin tablets - Lipitor

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Take atorvastatin once each day.

Follow carefully any lifestyle advice you have been given such as stopping smoking, avoiding drinking too much alcohol, eating a healthy diet and taking exercise.

If you develop any unusual cramps or pains in your muscles, contact your doctor for advice as soon as possible.

Type of medicine A lipid-regulating medicine commonly known as a statin
Used for Lowering cholesterol and other lipids; to reduce the risk of heart and blood vessel disease
Also called Lipitor®
Available as Tablets and chewable tablets

Lipids, or fats, are easily stored in your body and serve as a source of energy. Cholesterol is a type of lipid that is made in your liver from the fatty foods that you eat. When the concentration of cholesterol in your blood is too high, it is called hypercholesterolaemia. Although a high level of cholesterol will not make you feel ill, it can cause a problem if left untreated.

People with hypercholesterolaemia can develop small fatty patches called atheroma. These patches develop when excess fat is deposited onto the walls of blood vessels. Over time, these patches can make a blood vessel narrower and this is called atherosclerosis (sometimes referred to as 'hardening of the arteries'). The narrowing reduces the blood flow through the artery and increases the risk of a number of heart and blood vessel diseases, such as heart attack and stroke.

Atorvastatin belongs to a group of medicines known as statins (or HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors). It reduces the amount of cholesterol made by your body. It does this by blocking the action of a certain enzyme which is needed to make cholesterol. This lowers your risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Atorvastatin can also reduce the risk of heart disease in people who have an increased risk of it, even if their cholesterol levels are normal.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking atorvastatin it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you have any problems with the way your liver works, or if you have ever had a disease which has affected your liver.
  • If you have a problem with unexplained muscle aches or pains.
  • If you regularly drink large amounts of alcohol.
  • If you have an underactive thyroid.
  • If you have previously had a stroke caused by bleeding into your brain.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about atorvastatin and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Take atorvastatin once each day. There are several strengths of tablet available, so your doctor will tell you which strength is right for you.
  • You can generally take atorvastatin at a time of day to suit you, but it is best to take your doses at the same time of day each day. You can take the tablets either before or after food.
  • If you have been given atorvastatin chewable tablets, you can chew the tablets to help you swallow, or you can swallow them whole with a drink of water.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you do not remember until the following day, skip the missed dose. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so that your doctor can check on your progress. You will need to have blood tests from time to time. These are to measure your cholesterol level and also to check that your liver has not been affected by taking atorvastatin.
  • Your doctor will give you advice about eating a healthy diet, cutting down on the amount of alcohol you normally drink, reducing the amount of salt in your diet, stopping smoking and taking regular exercise. Following this advice will also help you to reduce your risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease.
  • Do not drink more than one or two small glasses of grapefruit juice a day. This is because a chemical in grapefruit juice can increase the amount of atorvastatin in your bloodstream, which can make side-effects more likely.
  • Women taking atorvastatin must avoid getting pregnant. Make sure you have discussed with your doctor which types of contraception are suitable for you and your partner.
  • Treatment with atorvastatin is usually long-term unless you experience an adverse effect. Continue to take the tablets unless you are advised otherwise by your doctor.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with atorvastatin, although these tend to be mild. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. Unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.

Common atorvastatin side-effects (these affect less than 1 in 10 people) What can I do if I experience this?
Muscle aches or pains Although this may not be anything to be concerned about, you should tell your doctor about it. This is because there is a rare but serious side-effect of atorvastatin which is a severe form of muscle inflammation
Headache Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller
Constipation Try to eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water each day
Diarrhoea Drink plenty of water to replace any lost fluids
Feeling sick, indigestion, wind (flatulence) Stick to simple meals - avoid rich or spicy food
Nosebleeds, cold-like symptoms such as runny nose or sneezing Speak with your doctor if any of these become troublesome

Important: atorvastatin has been associated with more serious side-effects in a very few people. Although these occur only rarely, it is important that you tell your doctor straightaway if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • If you develop any muscle cramps or pains, particularly if they are in your legs and you also feel unwell or have a high temperature (fever).
  • If you feel short of breath or develop an unexplained cough. This is because (in very rare cases), atorvastatin may cause a disease called interstitial lung disease.
  • If you develop any allergic-type reactions, such as swelling around your mouth or face, or a skin rash.

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the tablets, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with your other medicines.

If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
1404 (v26)
Last Checked:
27/10/2014
Next Review:
26/10/2017
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