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Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) is an oral prescription medication used to reduce the level of “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoproteins or LDL) and triglycerides while also increasing the “good” cholesterol (high density lipoproteins) in the body. When used in conjunction with a low-fat diet and exercise, Lipitor claims to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and chest pains in patients with heart disease or who are at risk for heart disease due to age, smoking, high blood pressure, familial heart disease and low levels of HDL.
The cholesterol and triglycerides we get are made in the body and we get them from the foods we eat. Although not all fats are bad, and some types of fats are beneficial, too much can cause blockages in the arteries. This can lead to many cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks and stroke, if not controlled. It is important to lower your cholesterol early if you have diabetes, smoke, have high blood pressure, are older as well as a history of heart disease in your family.
Lipitor and Statins
Lipitor, or atorvastatin calcium, is a member of the “statins,” one of five classes of cholesterol lowering drugs that have been made to inhibit an enzyme known as HMG CoA reductase, which plays a key role in the early steps of cholesterol production in the liver, where most of the cholesterol in our bloodstream is produced.
Other popular members of statin family also include: Crestor (rosuvastatin, AstraZeneca), Zocor (simvastatin, Merck) Mevacor (lovastatin, Merck), Pravachol (pravastatin, Bristol-Myers Squibb), and Lescol (fluvastatin, Novartis).
Classes of Cholesterol Lowering Drugs:
- bile-acid resins
- fibric acid derivatives
- cholesterol absorption inhibitors
Atorvastatin and Other Brands
Lipitor or atorvastatin calcium may be taken alone or as a combination drug under the brand names Caduet® (amlodipine besylate/atorvastatin calcium), Liptruzet (atorvastatin calcium and ezetimibe). It is available from other manufacturers such as Apotex, Sandoz, Mylan Pharms, and Ranbaxy Labs in its generic form as atorvastatin. These companies do not have to follow the same guidelines for approval as the brand name and individual companies may have their own safety data.
Cholesterol-Lowering Medications and Stroke Prevention
Cholesterol lowering drugs are only one part of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease due to high cholesterol. These drugs should be used in combination with a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol when changes in diet alone have been unsuccessful. Lipitor is indicated in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and hyperlipidemia (patients with abnormally high levels of circulating lipids).
In adult patients without clinically evident coronary heart disease, but with multiple risk factors for coronary heart disease such as age, smoking, hypertension, low HDL levels, or a family history of early coronary heart disease, Lipitor is indicated to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, chest pain, and future need for heart procedures (including coronary bypass surgery and stent placement).
In patients with type 2 diabetes, and without clinically evident coronary heart disease, (but with multiple risk factors for coronary heart disease such as damage to the eye (retinopathy), high levels of albumin in the urine (albuminuria), smoking, or hypertension), Lipitor is indicated to reduce the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke.
In patients with clinically evident coronary heart disease, Lipitor is indicated to reduce the risk of non-fatal heart attack, fatal and non-fatal stroke, and future need for heart procedures (including coronary bypass surgery and stent placement), the risk of hospitalization for chronic heart failure, and chest pain.
Lipitor is also indicated for use in patients with unusually high levels of circulating lipids and lipoproteins (hyperlipidemia). Lipitor should be taken along with a change in diet and possibly other lipid lowering drugs, depending on which lipoproteins are elevated and family history (classification reference: Circulation. 1972;45:501-508). Lipitor may also be used in both girls who have had their first period and boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who have significantly high total cholesterol, LDL, and lipoprotein levels if a family history of high cholesterol exists and diet alone is unsuccessful. Talk to your physician to determine what course of therapy is right for you.
Lipitor should NOT be used in patients with active liver disease, allergies or hypersensitivity to any component of the medication, or women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant. Lipitor should only be administered in women of childbearing years when the possibility of conception is unlikely and have been informed of the potential hazards by their physician. Women who are nursing should also be aware of the potential risks to infants and avoid taking Lipitor or discontinue breastfeeding their infants.
Interactions Diabetes Drugs and Supplements
In some cases, it may become necessary to take more than one medication at a time. This may increase the risk of certain side effects. Please consult your physician before taking multiple medications. If an interaction between drugs may occur, your physician may need to adjust the dosage to decrease these risks. Inform your physician of a complete list of any medications both prescription and over-the-counter medications including any nutritional supplements used for diabetes before taking Lipitor.
Some of these medicines include:
- Oral Contraceptives (birth control pills)
- Ketoconazole (anti-fungal drugs)
- Atorvastatin calcium (cholesterol-lowering drugs)
- Gemfibrozil (lipid-lowering drugs)
- Rifampin (antibacterial drugs)
- Fiber supplements (Metamucil or psyllium, glucomannan)
Lipitor should be taken once daily and can be taken with or without meals as directed by your physician. Recommended starting doses and maintenance doses of Lipitor may vary depending on the goal of the therapy and the background of the patient including; levels of cholesterol, the patients family history, any kidney impairment and any other drugs the patient may be taking (both cholesterol lowering drugs as well as others). Lipid levels should be checked 2 to 4 weeks after therapy has begun to determine if any changes in the dosage is necessary.
Common Lipitor Side Effects
The most commonly reported adverse reactions in patients treated with Lipitor were:
- Inflammation of the nasal passages and the upper part of the throat
- Pain in the joints, legs, and arms
- Urinary tract infection
Patients have reported the following common side effects while taking Lipitor:
- Upset stomach
- Muscle and joint pain
- Alterations in some laboratory tests
- Tendon problems
- Memory loss