Atorvastatin: uses, side effects and cautions

August 10, 2022
4 minute read

High cholesterol occurs when the levels of cholesterol in the blood exceed a range which is considered to be normal and healthy (5 or below). Over time, high cholesterol can increase the risk of developing a range of cardiovascular conditions, such as heart attacks, coronary heart disease, stroke, and various other heart conditions.  

In this week's blog, we'll be taking a look at statins with a specific focus on atorvastatin, one of the most popular drugs in this class of medications. We'll discuss what statins are, how atorvastatin works, how to take atorvastatin, side effects of atorvastatin, and much more! 

What are statins? What is atorvastatin?

Atorvastatin (known by the brand name Lipitor) is a statin medication. Statins are a group of medications prescribed to help lower the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), otherwise known as “bad cholesterol” in the blood.

Statins are generally prescribed in cases where lifestyle interventions such as a healthier diet and increased exercise have not yielded a sufficient reduction in cholesterol to mitigate the increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. To learn more about lifestyle interventions, check out our blog High cholesterol: Lifestyle interventions and medication.  

Statins are some of the most commonly prescribed medications around the world. There are five types of statins available in the UK:  

  • Atorvastatin  
  • Fluvastatin  
  • Pravastatin
  • Rosuvastatin
  • Simvastatin  

How does atorvastatin work?

Atorvastatin works by inhibiting a key step in the process of cholesterol synthesis in the liver. The reduction in LDL cholesterol thus lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease over the long term.  

In addition, statins such as atorvastatin can also lower your triglycerides, and increase levels of HLD-cholesterol – the type of cholesterol that helps clear fat deposits from your arteries.  

The cardiovascular benefits of statin therapy are well-supported by a strong body of evidence, though some concerns have been raised over the adverse effects associated with long-term use.

How to take atorvastatin

Generally, statins are in the form of tablets which are ideally taken at the same time every day. Your GP would advise you on the best time to take atorvastatin.

Once statin therapy is initiated, you can generally expect to continue taking them for the rest of your life, as statins will stop working if you stop taking them, and your cholesterol levels will begin to rise.  

It’s important to have regular check-ups with your GP or nurse in order to assess how well statin therapy is working for you.  

Healthy lifestyle interventions complement statin therapy to reduce your cholesterol levels, so it’s always a good idea to aim to improve your diet, get more exercise, and reduce bad habits such as drinking and smoking.  

Side effects of atorvastatin

Statins can cause side effects, like most medicines other medicines do. Furthermore, statins can also affect people in different ways, and as such you could experience only a few side effects of varying intensity, or no side effects at all.  

Common side effects of atorvastatin include:

  • Nausea and/or indigestion  
  • Sore throat  
  • Headaches  
  • Cold-like symptoms  
  • Nosebleeds  
  • Constipation and/or flatulence  
  • Diarrhoea  

Statins can interact with other medicines and lead to unwanted adverse effects. For this reason, it’s important to speak to your GP about any other medicines that you’re taking before you start taking statins.

For a full list of possible interactions, please refer to this NHS article: Statins: Overview.

If you have any questions around high cholesterol treatment,  or atorvastatin, contact our friendly pharmacy team who can offer you advice and guidance.

Content last reviewed on:
August 10, 2022
Next review date:
August 10, 2024
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