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Generic Name: Atorvastatin calcium
Brands: Lipitor
Class: Statin (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor)
Availability: Prescription needed
Molecular Formula: C33H35FN2O5
Substance UNII: A0JWA85V8F

What is Atorvastatin?

Atorvastatin is a statin (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor). It is often sold under the brand name Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium).

What is Atorvastatin Used For?

Along with a proper diet, doctors prescribe atorvastatin to help patients manage their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Cholesterol is a naturally occurring sterol, which is a type of lipid (a fatty substance); the human body needs cholesterol in order to perform tasks like manufacturing hormones. Triglycerides are another kind of lipid, and they are what primarily makes up human body fat; therefore, they are key to providing the body with energy.

While both cholesterol and triglycerides are necessary for proper functioning, having too much of either can pose serious health risks. For example, experts associate high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol) and low levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol) paired with high triglyceride levels with increased risk of heart problems.

How Does Atorvastatin Work?

By observing its behavior in non-human animals, experts believe there are a few primary ways that this drug works to help patients get their cholesterol and lipoprotein levels under control.

Firstly, atorvastatin inhibits the enzyme (special protein) HMG-CoA reductase. Importantly, this enzyme helps the body turn HMG-CoA (3-hydroxy-3­methylglutaryl-coenzyme A) to mevalonate. Now, mevalonate is a precursor to sterols like cholesterol, which means the body needs mevalonate to create cholesterol.

Therefore, by inhibiting the chain of reactions that produces cholesterol, atorvastatin can help patients keep their cholesterol levels down.

Secondly, this drug may increase LDL (“bad” cholesterol) receptors on the surface of cells in the liver, the organ that both creates and eliminates most of the body’s cholesterol. The job of an LDL receptor is basically to help the body keep its cholesterol levels under control. When LDL receptors no longer function as they should and/or there is too much cholesterol for these receptors to process, LDL levels can rise.

The result?

Unhealthy levels of “bad” cholesterol, which can wreak havoc on the body through methods such as clogging arteries.

Now, LDL receptors can only start processing LDL if they are on a cell-surface area. Therefore, by increasing the number of hepatic (liver) cell-surface LDL receptors, atorvastatin can increase the rate at which the body breaks down cholesterol.

In addition to these actions, the FDA also states that atorvastatin (Lipitor, specifically) “reduces LDL production and the number of LDL particles.” Remember: experts typically associate reduced LDL levels with decreased risk of medical problems like heart failure.

How Long Does it Take for Atorvastatin to Work?

According to the FDA, Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) can take up to four weeks to work. Some reduction to various lipid levels may start after around a week of use.

Do Not Use Atorvastatin If:

There are several situations where this medication may not be the right choice for certain patients. According to the FDA, the following are contraindications for Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium):

  • “Active liver disease, which may include unexplained persistent elevations in hepatic transaminase [an enzyme] levels”
  • Hypersensitivity to any ingredient
  • Pregnancy and lactation

Please note that this list may not be complete, and there may be other situations where atorvastatin use is not advisable.

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.

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