Atorvastatin (Lipitor): Do the Benefits Outweigh the risks?

Lipitor (Atorvastatin) belongs to a group of drugs called HMG-CoA reductase or commonly known as statins. In general, statins are drugs that reduce the level of bad cholesterol in the body through limiting the production of cholesterol in the liver.

There are different types of statin drugs approved for use in the United States. These include:

  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol, Lescol XL)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Pitavastatin (Livalo)
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol)

Ultimately, statins are touted as being able to prevent and treat atherosclerosis – a condition that causes heart attacks, chest pain, stroke, and intermittent claudication as a result of the accumulation of fats and cholesterol along the walls of the arteries. Among the statins listed above, Lipitor is the second most widely used statin drug all over the United States.

Lipitor is in the medicine cabinet of many seniors

Atorvastatin is an oral prescription drug commonly sold under the brand name Lipitor. It is also sold in generic form, which will cost less on your part. In some cases, however, generic drugs may not have every strength or form available – compared to the branded version.

Why Is Lipitor Used?

The makers of Lipitor claim the drug reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and lessens the possibility of having heart surgery that people with – or at risk of – heart disease. This is why Atorvastatin is usually taken with proper diet, weight loss, and an active lifestyle.

Other than that, the drug is used to lessen the accumulation of fatty substances – low-density lipoprotein (LDL or ‘bad’) cholesterol and the triglycerides found in the blood; and in turn, increase the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’) cholesterol.

There has been a great deal of research in recent years, however, that brings into question whether cholestoral is linked with Heart Disease. Doctors like Uffe Ravnskov who wrote “The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease”. In fact, he believes the studies put out in the scientific community do not accurately show a direct link between high cholesterol and heart disease. Several other studies have shown just the opposite – that cholesterol is beneficial for the body in many ways, especially in older adults.

What Are The Side Effects of Lipitor?

Atorvastatin, as with other drugs, can cause certain side effects. However, it is important to remember that the side effects of the drugs vary between each individual. The list below may or may not contain every possible side effect. It is best to discuss with side effects with your elderly loved one’s physician or healthcare team.

Common Side Effects

The following are the more common side effects your loved one may experience when taking atorvastatin oral tablets:

  • Diarrhea
  • Cold symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, and coughing)
  • Heartburn
  • Gas
  • Memory problems (being forgetful)
  • Joint pain
  • Confusion

These side effects are usually mild and may subside within a few days or weeks at most. However, when if the symptoms are severe and extend for a period of time, it is best to check in with a doctor or a pharmacist.

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More Serious Side Effects

The following side effects are serious and may lead to health problems if not addressed right away. Do not hesitate to call 911 or go a hospital near you if the symptoms of the drug appear to be life-threatening. These symptoms may include:

  • Liver problems
    • Loss of appetite
    • Yellowing of the skin or in the white part of the eyes
    • Dark-colored urine
    • Upper stomach pain
    • Exhaustion or weakness
  • Muscle problems
    • Exhaustion
    • Unexplained muscle pain, weakness, or tenderness

In addition, according to a study from Ireland, more serious side effects include:

  • 3% of people will develop cataracts in their eyes
  • A small percentage may experience kidney problems
  • Higher risks of diabetes and cancer
  • Memory loss
  • Coronary artery calcification
  • A tenfold increase in erectile dysfunction, especially in younger men taking statins

How Can Lipitor Interact With Other Meds?

As expected, Lipitor oral tablets may interact with other medications, herbs, and multivitamins your loved one is taking. An interaction may cause the drug to alter the way it works; therefore it can be harmful to your loved one or it may prevent the drug from working properly.

Your loved one’s doctor will see to it that the risk of drug interactions is minimal. In order to prevent interactions, the doctor will usually manage all of your loved one’s medications. All they have to do is to tell them about the meds, vitamins, or herbs they are taking.

The following are the examples of the drugs that may interact with Atorvastatin. However, it is important to remember that – similar to the side effects – the type of interaction varies between each individual. It is best to speak with your loved one’s doctor about it to ease your mind.

Lipitor is one of many statin medications

Fungal Drugs

Some drugs used to cure fungal infections potentially cause Atorvastatin to accumulate in the body, increasing the risk of muscle breakdown. Your loved one’s doctor does not have to hinder you from taking Lipitor, he/she may alter the dosage of the drug instead:

  • Ketoconazole
  • Itraconazole

Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

The drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol may increase the risk of developing muscle problems when taken together with Atorvastatin. Your loved one’s doctor will either alter the dosage of the medicines or prescribe you other meds instead.

  • Niacin
  • Gemfibrozil
  • Certain drugs that contain fibrate

Antibiotics

The following antibiotics are known to heighten the risk of developing muscle problems when a person takes it with Atorvastatin:

  • Erythromycin
  • Clarithromycin

HIV and Hepatitis C Drugs

Prescription drugs used to treat Hepatitis C or HIV may interact with Atorvastatin by letting the drug accumulate in the body. This increases the possibility of a muscle breakdown; therefore the doctor may alter the dosage of Atorvastatin.

  • Protease inhibitors
    • Ritonavir
    • Lopinavir
    • Darunavir
    • Fosamprenavir
    • Boceprevir
    • Telapravir
    • Tipranavir
    • Saquinavir

Colchicine

Colchicine increases the risk of muscle breakdown when taken with Atorvastatin.

Rifampin

When taken together, Rifampin and Atorvastatin can potentially lower the amount of Atorvastatin in the body. Which means, the drug won’t be able to work the way it is supposed to.

Digoxin

As opposed to Rifampin, Digoxin may dangerously increase the amount of Digoxin found in the blood. The doctor will monitor the level of the drug found in the blood, so he/she is able to modify the medication doses if necessary.

What Are the Warnings?

It is beneficial that your loved one will know the following warnings when it comes to taking Atorvastatin:

Food Interactions

The consumption of large amounts of grapefruit juice may increase the amount of Atorvastatin found in the blood – increasing the risk of a muscle breakdown. It is best to avoid drinking copious amounts of grapefruit juice while taking the drug.

Allergies

For some people, Atorvastatin may cause a severe allergic reaction. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or throat

If you think your loved one is having an allergic reaction to the drug, call 911 immediately or go to an emergency room near you. If the senior has a history of an allergic reaction to Atorvastatin, they should not be taking the drug again. Doing so can cause serious problems – even death.

Muscle Problems

If your loved one is experiencing muscle breakdown, taking Atorvastatin worsens it or increases the possibility of developing one. Especially to seniors, people with thyroid problems, or kidney disease. Tell your loved one to inform their doctor if they experience unexplained muscle problems – soreness, weakness, or pain.

Kidney Problems

Kidney problems, along with taking Atorvastatin increases the possibility of developing muscle breakdown. Your loved one’s doctor will most likely monitor them closely for signs of muscle problems.

Diabetes

There are cases where Atorvastatin increased blood sugar levels. If your loved one is diabetic, their doctor may alter the dosage of the medication or change it entirely.

Liver Disease

If your loved one has liver disease, it might be better for them to avoid taking Atorvastatin since it can increase their liver test results – heightening the risk of liver damage. Certain lab tests for the liver showed that taking Atorvastatin made their results abnormally high.

Make sure to ask your loved one to take Atorvastatin as directed by their physician – the correct dose, time, and way of taking it. If your loved one has concerns regarding the drug – side effects felt or questions that needed to be answered – it is best to discuss it with their doctor or healthcare team.

We have quite a few mobile doctors who come to our assisted living homes to personally see our residents and care for their needs. If you would like more advice about Lipitor and statins in general, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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From Pilot to Paradise: Meet Hal Cranmer!

From Pilot to Paradise: Meet Hal Cranmer!

Mr. Cranmer went from Air Force Special Operations Pilot to Airline Pilot to running a multimillion dollar manufacturing plant after 9/11 ended his flying career. Now he is bringing his business expertise to his true passion - taking care of seniors in his 'A Paradise for Parents' assisted living homes in Surprise and Goodyear, AZ. Read Hal's crazy career story, 'From Air Force Pilot to Assisted Living Owner'. Click the button to send Hal a message!

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From Pilot to Paradise: Meet Hal Cranmer!

From Pilot to Paradise: Meet Hal Cranmer!

Mr. Cranmer went from Air Force Special Operations Pilot to Airline Pilot to running a multimillion dollar manufacturing plant after 9/11 ended his flying career. Now he is bringing his business expertise to his true passion - taking care of seniors in his 'A Paradise for Parents' assisted living homes in Surprise and Goodyear, AZ. Read Hal's crazy career story, 'From Air Force Pilot to Assisted Living Owner'. Click the button to send Hal a message!

Let's Connect

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