Atorvastatin

Sounds like 'a-tor-va-stat-in'

Atorvastatin is used to lower raised cholesterol. Find out how to take it safely and possible side effects. Atorvastatin is also called Lipitor, Lorstat or Zarator.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Medicine to lower 'bad' cholesterol (cholesterol is a type of fat in the body)
  • Belongs to a group of medicines known as statins
  • Lipitor®
  • Lorstat®
  • Zarator®

What is atorvastatin?

Everyone has cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood. They are fatty substances needed by the body for many things. There are different types of cholesterol. Too much of the “bad” cholesterol can block the blood vessels that supply your heart and brain with blood, and can cause heart attack, angina and stroke. The “good” cholesterol helps to remove the bad cholesterol from the blood vessels. Atorvastatin is used to lower the level of cholesterol in your blood. 

Atorvastatin can also reduce your chance of heart disease if you have an increased risk of it, even if your cholesterol levels are normal. 

Atorvastatin belongs to a group of medicines called statins. Read more about statins and other frequently asked questions about statins

Dose

Atorvastatin tablets are available in different strengths: 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg and 80 mg.

  • The dose of atorvastatin will depend on your cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, which is calculated by completing a heart risk assessment. Your doctor will discuss your CVD risk with you and then determine what dose of atorvastatin is best for you.
  • Always take your atorvastatin exactly as your doctor has told you.
  • The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much atorvastatin to take, how often to take it and any special instructions.

How to take atorvastatin

  • Timing: Take atorvastatin once a day, at around the same time each day. You can take atorvastatin with or without food.
  • Avoid large quantities of grapefruit. Having large quantities of grapefruit while taking atorvastatin can increase your risk of side effects. But, eating no more than half a grapefruit or drinking no more than a standard glass (250 mL) of grapefruit juice each day, should not be a problem if you are taking statins.
  • Limit drinking large amounts of alcohol while you are taking atorvastatin. Heavy drinking can increase your risk of side effects such as problems with your liver.
  • Missed dose: If you forget your dose, take it as soon as you remember that day. But, if it is nearly time for your next dose, just take the next dose at the usual time. Do not take double the dose.
  • Keep taking atorvastatin regularly. To reduce your cholesterol effectively, you must keep taking atorvastatin every day. Treatment with atorvastatin is usually long term. 

Precautions before starting atorvastatin

  • Do you have liver or kidney problems?
  • Do you have problems with your thyroid?
  • Do you have diabetes?
  • Are your trying to get pregnant, think you might be pregnant, you're already pregnant, or you're breastfeeding?
  • Do you drink large amounts of alcohol?
  • Have you had, or do you have, a muscle disorder?

If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before you start atorvastatin. Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions, or it can only be used with extra care.

Precautions when taking atorvastatin

  • You may need to see your doctor regularly when you first start taking atorvastatin to make sure the dose is right for you.
  • To get the full benefit of a statin, it is important to keep a healthy diet and exercise often.

Side effects

Like all medicines, atorvastatin can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Muscle pain or weakness

Some people will have muscle pain or weakness when taking statins. This is rarely serious and often goes away with time. If your pain comes on shortly after you start your statin, or gets worse, see your doctor. Your doctor will check an enzyme called creatine kinase to see if the aches and pains are possibly being caused or made worse by the statins. If so:

  • a lower dose or a different statin may be prescribed, or
  • you may choose to continue living with the aches because of the benefits of the statin, or
  • you may discuss stopping taking your statin with your doctor.

Your doctor will also want to check for a rare but serious condition called rhabdomyolysis and will check any other medicines you are taking. Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by an interaction between statins and some other medicines including antibiotics.

Other side effects

Side effects* What should I do?**
  • Headache
  • This is quite common when you first start taking atorvastatin, and usually goes away with time
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome
  • Diarrhoea (runny poo)
  • Stomach upset
  • Bloating or gas in the tummy
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • These are quite common when you first start taking atorvastatin, and usually go away with time
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome
  • Muscle aches and pain or muscle weakness
  • Tell your doctor
  • Signs of problems with your liver such as dark coloured urine, yellowing of the skin or eyes, sharp pain in your stomach area
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as itchy skin, and rash
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116
* For more information on side effects, see the Medsafe consumer information leaflet Lorstat.
** Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product

Interactions

Atorvastatin can interact with some medicines and herbal supplements, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting atorvastatin or before starting any new medicines or supplements.

Learn more

The following links have more information on atorvastatin.

Atorvastatin (Te Reo Māori) New Zealand Formulary Patient Information
Lorstat ; Zarator Medsafe Consumer Information Sheets
StatinsHeart Foundation, NZ

References

  1. Prescribing statins to reduce cardiovascular risk BPAC, 2017
  2. Investigating myalgia in patients taking statins BPAC, 2014
  3. Statins New Zealand Formulary
  4. Atorvastatin New Zealand Formulary
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland; Maya Patel, MPharm PGDipClinPharm, Auckland Last reviewed: 04 May 2021