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What is atorvastatin?

Pharmacist in a lab coat with What is Atorvastain? written across the image
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What is atorvastatin used for?

Atorvastatin is used to lower cholesterol levels if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol.

What does atorvastatin do?

Atorvastatin acts on the liver to stop it making so much cholesterol and this helps lower the levels in your blood.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that the body needs in every cell membrane. It’s a building block in making lots of the body’s vital chemicals like vitamin D, cortisol, and hormones like testosterone and estrogen. We need a small amount of it in the right place at the right time.

How does cholesterol travel around the body?

Because cholesterol is a fat, it doesn’t easily dissolve in the watery bits of our blood. In order to travel around the body, cholesterol is carried in tiny little bubbles made of fat and protein. The fat in these bubbles depends on the sort of fat in your diet.

Unsaturated fats from foods like oily fish, nuts, avocados, olive oil etc help to make “healthy” or “good” cholesterol in terms of how it travels around the body – this is known as HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. So eating more foods with these sort of fats and oils helps your body handle cholesterol better.

Saturated fats from dairy, cakes, biscuits, red meat etc tend to form LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol). When cholesterol travels around your body in this form, it’s more likely to clog up your arteries which increases the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Reducing your overall fat intake by grilling or steaming food can also help lower your cholesterol levels. Eating an overall healthy diet is important to help with regulating cholesterol, so don’t just focus on fats. There are some useful links below under Healthy Living Advice that you may find helpful

How do I take atorvastatin?

Atorvastatin is usually a tablet that you take once a day. Although some statins (like simvastatin) need to be taken at night time, atorvastatin has stable blood levels round the clock so you can take it in the morning if you prefer, which some people find easier to remember.

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Common side effects

Most people taking atorvastatin feel fine while they are taking it. You may experience some of these side effects, but often they subside after a few days once your body is used to it.

  • feeling sick (nausea) or indigestion
  • headaches
  • aches and pains in your back and joints
  • nosebleeds
  • sore throat
  • cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, blocked nose or sneezing
  • constipation or wind
  • diarrhoea

Stop taking atorvastatin and call a doctor if you get:

  • muscle pain, tenderness, weakness or cramps - these can be signs of muscle breakdown and kidney damage
  • yellow skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow, or if you have pale poo and dark pee - this can be a sign of liver problems
  • a skin rash with pink-red blotches, especially on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • severe stomach pain - this can be a sign of pancreas problems
  • a cough, feeling short of breath, and weight loss - this can be a sign of lung disease

Atorvastatin and muscles

It can be quite normal to have aches and pains as we grow older - for example, arthritis. But when does muscle pain while taking atorvastatin become serious enough to stop taking it and see your doctor?

Firstly, make sure you’re actually noticing muscle pain (middle of your calf or thigh muscles) and not joint pain (in your knees or ankles). This will help you describe the symptoms to your doctor.

If the pain is strong or unusual, your doctor may want to carry out some blood tests to check that your muscles and liver are healthy.

Atorvastatin and alcohol

You can drink alcohol while taking atorvastatin. However, drinking a lot of alcohol may mean you're more likely to get muscle and liver side effects. Try not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. It's best to spread this evenly over 3 or more days. A standard glass of wine (175ml) is 2 units. A pint of lager or beer is usually 2 to 3 units of alcohol.

Further information

If you'd like to learn more about metformin, check out our YouTube series - Never Miss a Dose, where we take a look inside the medicine cabinet of the nation. 

In this series, we’ll take a look at the most commonly prescribed medication in the UK, what they’re used to treat and how best to take them. We’ll also do a demonstration at the end of each episode - it’s worth waiting for!

Want to take the hassle out of your repeat prescriptions?

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