Atorvastatin belongs to a group of medicines called statins. It's used to lower cholesterol.
The medicine is available on prescription as tablets, including chewable tablets for people who have difficulty swallowing.
- Atorvastatin is usually taken once a day.
- The most common side effects are headaches, feeling sick, diarrhoea and cold-like symptoms.
- Don't take atorvastatin if you're pregnant or think you could be pregnant. This medicine can harm an unborn baby.
- Take atorvastatin even if you feel well, as you will still be getting the benefits. Most people with high cholesterol don't have any symptoms.
- Atorvastatin is also called by the brand name Lipitor.
Who can take atorvastatin
Atorvastatin can be taken by adults and children over the age of 10.
Atorvastatin isn't suitable for some people. Tell your doctor if you:
- are allergic to atorvastatin
- have liver or kidney problems
- are trying to get pregnant, think you might be pregnant, you're already pregnant, or you're breastfeeding
- have severe lung disease
- have previously had a stroke caused by bleeding into the brain
- drink large amounts of alcohol
- have an underactive thyroid
- have had muscular side effects when taking a statin in the past
- have had, or have, a muscle disorder
Lipitor chewable tablets contain a substance called aspartame – check with your doctor before taking these if you have phenylketonuria (an inherited disorder of protein metabolism).
How and when to take
Take atorvastatin once a day. You can choose to take it at any time, as long as you stick to the same time every day.
Atorvastatin doesn't upset the stomach, so you can take it with or without food.
The usual dose for adults is between 10mg and 80mg a day.
In children, the usual dose is 10mg to 20mg once a day. Sometimes higher doses are used – your doctor will work out the amount of atorvastatin that's right for your child.
Your dose depends on the reason for taking it, your cholesterol levels, and what other medicines you are taking.
Swallow atorvastatin tablets whole with a glass of water. If you've been given chewable tablets, you can chew them or swallow them whole with a glass of water.
What if I forget to take it?
If you occasionally forget to take a dose, take your next dose the next day at the usual time. Never take 2 doses at the same time. Never take extra doses.
If you forget doses often, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways that are suitable for you and your medicines.
What if I take too much?
Taking an extra dose of atorvastatin by accident is unlikely to harm you.
Talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you're worried or take more than one extra dose.
Like all medicines, atorvastatin can cause side effects in some people.
One rare but serious side effect is unexplained muscle pain, tenderness or weakness.
Common side effects
These common side effects of atorvastatin happen in more than 1 in 100 people. Keep taking the medicine, but tell your doctor if they bother you or don't go away:
- feeling sick
- pain in the back and joints
- sore throat
- cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, blocked nose or sneezing
- digestive complaints, such as constipation, wind, indigestion or diarrhoea
Serious side effects
Serious side effects when taking atorvastatin are rare and happen in less than 1 in 1,000 people.
Stop taking atorvastatin and tell a doctor if you get:
- muscle pain, tenderness, weakness or cramps (signs of muscle breakdown and kidney damage)
- yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark-coloured pee, pale-coloured poo, itching, feeling tired or weak, and loss of appetite (warning signs of liver problems)
- a skin rash with pink-red blotches that may blister, especially on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- severe tummy pain (a sign of inflammation of the pancreas)
- a cough, feeling short of breath, and weight loss (signs of interstitial lung disease)
Serious allergic reaction
The warning signs of a serious allergic reaction are:
- a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
- tightness in the chest or throat
- trouble breathing or talking
- swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat
A serious allergic reaction is an emergency. Contact a doctor straight away if you think you or someone around you is having a serious allergic reaction.
How to cope with side effects
What to do about:
- feeling sick – stick to simple meals and don't eat rich or spicy food. It might help to take your atorvastatin after a meal or snack.
- headaches – make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids. Don't drink too much alcohol
- diarrhoea – drink plenty of water or other fluids. It may also help to take oral rehydration solutions, which you can buy from a pharmacy or supermarket to prevent dehydration.
You can report any suspected side effect to a UK safety scheme.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Atorvastatin isn't recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as there's no firm evidence it's safe.
Talk to your doctor if you want to get pregnant. It's best to stop taking atorvastatin at least 3 months before you start trying for a baby.
If you become pregnant while taking atorvastatin, stop taking the medicine and tell your doctor.
It's not known if atorvastatin gets into breast milk, but it may cause problems for your baby. You may be able to stop atorvastatin while you breastfeed.
Cautions with other medicines
Some medicines affect the way atorvastatin works and can increase the risk of serious side effects, such as muscle damage.
Medicines that may not mix well with atorvastatin include:
- some antibiotics and antifungals
- some HIV medicines
- some hepatitis C medicines
- warfarin (stops blood clotting)
- ciclosporin (treats psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis)
- colchicine (a medicine for gout)
- contraceptive pills
- verapamil, diltiazem, amlodipine (for high blood pressure and heart problems)
- amiodarone (makes your heart stable)
If you're taking atorvastatin and need to take one of these medicines, your doctor may:
- prescribe a lower dose of atorvastatin
- prescribe a different statin medicine
- recommend that you temporarily stop taking atorvastatin
Mixing atorvastatin with herbal remedies and supplements
St John's Wort, a herbal medicine taken for depression, reduces the amount of atorvastatin in your blood, so it doesn't work as well.
Talk to your doctor if you're thinking about starting St John's Wort, as it will affect how well the atorvastatin works.
How does atorvastatin work?
How long will I take atorvastatin for?
Are statins safe?
Is atorvastatin addictive?
What will happen if I come off it?
Can I drive or ride a bike?
Will it reduce my fertility?
Are there other cholesterol-lowering medicines?
Will it stop my contraception working?
Can I drink alcohol with it?
Is there any food or drink I need to avoid?
Can lifestyle changes help?