Lipitor (Atorvastatin) - Oral

What Is Lipitor?

Lipitor (atorvastatin) is a prescription medication used to treat high cholesterol. It belongs to a class of drugs commonly known as statins, antihyperlipidemics (cholesterol-lowering drugs), or HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors.

Statins work by blocking an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. This enzyme’s role is to speed up the body’s process of building cholesterol. Blocking this enzyme by taking a statin drug slows down natural cholesterol production and lowers the amount of cholesterol in your blood. 

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the body. It also comes from eating certain foods. The body needs cholesterol, also called lipids, for many essential functions. But, having too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to life-threatening heart problems like a heart attack or stroke. Lipitor is prescribed along with a healthy diet to reduce high cholesterol levels and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

Lipitor is a tablet that contains the active ingredient atorvastatin and is usually taken once a day.

Drug Facts

Generic Name: Atorvastatin

Brand Name(s): Lipitor

Drug Availability: Prescription

Therapeutic Classification: Antihyperlipidemic

Available Generically: Yes

Controlled Substance: N/A

Administration Route: Oral

Active Ingredient: Atorvastatin

Dosage Form(s): Tablet

What Is Lipitor Used For?

Lipitor is used to treat high cholesterol. Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it for the following uses, along with a healthy diet for the following.

Lipitor helps prevent serious cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke in adults considered high-risk for developing these problems. It is also approved to reduce the risk of angina and the need for certain types of heart surgery in high-risk individuals. People are considered high-risk if they have multiple cardiovascular (heart) risk factors, such as:

Lipitor reduces the risk of serious cardiovascular events in adults with heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease (narrowing of the blood vessels), or a history of stroke or other blood flow problems.

It also decreases or improves cholesterol levels in adults with conditions that cause high cholesterol levels, including:

  • Primary hyperlipidemia: High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), commonly known as “bad” cholesterol, in the blood
  • Hypertriglyceridemia: High levels of triglycerides, another type of lipid, in the blood
  • Mixed dyslipidemia: Low levels of HDL along with high levels of LDL and triglycerides in the blood 
  • Homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HeFH): A genetic condition that can cause very high levels of LDL

Lipitor reduces cholesterol levels in children ages 10 years and older with HeFH.

Lipitor (Atorvastatin) Drug Information - Illustration by Dennis Madamba

Verywell / Dennis Madamba

How to Take Lipitor

Take Lipitor by mouth as directed by your healthcare provider, typically once a day. It doesn’t matter what time of day you take Lipitor, but it’s best to take it around the same time each day. The medication may be taken with or without food. 

To help reduce side effects while taking Lipitor, it’s best to avoid drinking lots of grapefruit juice when taking it.

Storage

Store Lipitor in a closed container at room temperature, away from moisture.

Off-Label Uses

Lipitor is most often prescribed to treat high cholesterol and reduce your risk of serious cardiovascular problems like heart attack and stroke. Healthcare providers may also prescribe Lipitor off-label for other uses that haven’t been approved by the FDA.

Lipitor may be used off-label to:

  • Treat certain types of cancer such as colorectal cancer
  • Treat neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Reduce high cholesterol levels related to HIV
  • Lower the risk of cardiovascular events related to autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus

How Long Does Lipitor Take to Work?

It usually takes at least two weeks for Lipitor to start working. High cholesterol is a silent condition that does not usually have symptoms. So, a blood test is the only way to check how well Lipitor is working for you.

What Are the Side Effects of Lipitor?

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. A healthcare provider can advise you on side effects. If you experience other effects, contact your pharmacist or a healthcare provider. You may report side effects to the FDA at fda.gov/medwatch or 1-800-FDA-1088.

Common Side Effects

More common side effects of Lipitor may include:

  • Common cold symptoms such as sore throat or sneezing
  • Joint pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in the arms, legs, hands, or feet
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Severe Side Effects

Rare but serious side effects can occur while taking Lipitor. If you notice the symptoms described below, don’t wait to see if they go away. Call your healthcare provider right away, or call 911 for emergency medical care if your symptoms feel life-threatening. Serious side effects and their symptoms can include the following:

  • Muscle discomfort: Muscle pain, weakness, spasms, or stiffness 
  • Rhabdomyolysis: A rare but life-threatening condition in which muscles break down and can lead to kidney failure, severe muscle pain or weakness, nausea or vomiting, dark-colored urine, dizziness, heart palpitations, feeling exhausted or confused
  • Liver damage: Signs include fatigue, nausea or vomiting, dark-colored urine, and jaundice which is yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes. A blood test showing increased liver enzyme levels can also be a sign of liver damage.
  • Memory problems 
  • Allergic reactions: Swelling of the tongue, lips, and face or trouble breathing

Long-Term Side Effects

It’s possible that Lipitor may cause side effects that may continue to affect you even after treatment with the medication has ended. The following long-term side effects have been reported after treatment with atorvastatin:

  • Diabetes: Increases in blood sugar levels have been reported with statin use, including Lipitor. Increased blood sugar levels may increase your risk for diabetes or make diabetes more severe.
  • Necrotizing myopathy: This is a rare but serious condition in which the immune system attacks muscle tissue and causes damage. Muscle weakness may be a lasting symptom of this condition. Blood test results may continue to show raised levels of creatine kinase after treatment is stopped.

Report Side Effects

Lipitor may cause other side effects. Call your healthcare provider if you have any unusual problems while taking this medication.

If you experience a serious side effect, you or your provider may send a report to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting Program or by phone (800-332-1088).

Dosage: How Much Lipitor Should I Take?

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The dose of this medicine will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor's orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of this medicine. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.

The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.

  • For oral dosage form (tablets):
    • For high cholesterol:
      • Adults—At first, 10 or 20 milligrams (mg) once a day. Some patients may need to start at 40 mg per day. Your doctor may increase your dose as needed. However, the dose is usually not more than 80 mg per day.
      • Children 10 to 17 years of age—At first, 10 mg once a day. Your doctor may increase your dose as needed. However, the dose is usually not more than 20 mg per day.
      • Children younger than 10 years of age)—Use and dose must be determined by your doctor.

Modifications

Your healthcare provider may recommend dose adjustments of Lipitor based on several factors, such as:

  • Age
  • Severity of your condition
  • Other medicines or supplements that you may be taking
  • Other health conditions that you may have (ex., liver disease, which can increase Lipitor levels in the body)
  • How well Lipitor works for you based on your blood cholesterol levels
  • Whether your body tolerates the medicine without bothersome side effects

You should not crush, cut, or chew Lipitor tablets. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes to your dose.

Missed Dose

If you miss a dose of Lipitor, try to take it as soon as possible. But, if you miss your dose by more than 12 hours, just wait and take the next dose at your regular time. You should not take an extra dose to make up for a missed dose.

It is best to take Lipitor every day to get the full benefit of the medication.

Overdose: What Happens If I Take Too Much Lipitor?

Taking more than the recommended dose of Lipitor may increase your risk for experiencing side effects. Contact your healthcare provider immediately or visit your nearest emergency room if you believe that an overdose has occurred.

What Happens If I Overdose on Lipitor?

If you think you or someone else may have overdosed on Lipitor, call a healthcare provider or the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222).

If someone collapses or isn't breathing after taking Lipitor, call 911 immediately.

Precautions

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It is very important that your doctor check your progress at regular visits. This will allow your doctor to see if the medicine is working properly to lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to decide if you should continue to take it. Blood tests may be needed to check for unwanted effects.

Using this medicine while you are pregnant can harm your unborn baby. Use an effective form of birth control to keep from getting pregnant. If you think you have become pregnant while using the medicine, tell your doctor right away.

Call your doctor right away if you have unexplained muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness, especially if you also have unusual tiredness or a fever. These may be symptoms of serious muscle problems, such as myopathy or immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy (IMNM).

Call your doctor right away if you have dark-colored urine, fever, muscle cramps or spasms, muscle pain or stiffness, or unusual tiredness or weakness. These could be symptoms of a serious muscle problem called rhabdomyolysis, which can cause kidney problems.

Call your doctor right away if you get a headache, stomach pain, vomiting, dark-colored urine, loss of appetite, weight loss, general feeling of tiredness or weakness, light-colored stools, upper right stomach pain, or yellow eyes or skin. These could be symptoms of liver damage.

Make sure any doctor or dentist who treats you knows that you are using this medicine. You may need to stop using this medicine if you have a major surgery, major injury, or you develop other serious health problems.

Do not take other medicines unless they have been discussed with your doctor. This includes prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter [OTC]) medicines and herbal or vitamin supplements.

What Are Reasons I Shouldn’t Take Lipitor?

You should not take Lipitor if:

  • You have liver disease.
  • You are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
  • You are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed.
  • You had an allergic reaction to Lipitor or one of its ingredients in the past.

What Other Medications Interact With Lipitor?

Lipitor can interact with some other medications. Some drug interactions may be managed with dose adjustments by your healthcare provider, while others should be avoided altogether. Before taking atorvastatin, talk to your healthcare provider about all of your current medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements (including herbs).

Some of the most important interactions to be aware of while taking Lipitor include:

  • “Azole” antifungals such as Nizoral (ketoconazole) and Sporanox (itraconazole)
  • Certain macrolide antibiotics such as Biaxin (clarithromycin) and erythromycin
  • Certain protease inhibitors used to treat HIV such as Aptivus (tipranavir), Norvir (ritonavir), and Invirase (saquinavir)
  • Digoxin
  • Fibrates, such as fenofibrate
  • Gemfibrozil
  • Neoral (cyclosporine)
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)
  • St. John’s Wort, an herbal remedy thought to have antidepressant effects

What Medications Are Similar?

Lipitor belongs to a class of drugs called statins. Other statin drugs are available besides Lipitor. Like most types of medications, individual results can vary with different drugs in the same class. If one statin doesn’t work well for you or causes side effects, your healthcare provider may switch you to a different statin drug. You should not take more than one statin drug at the same time. If you have questions about other treatment options, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist. 

Statin drugs that are similar to Lipitor (atorvastatin) include:

  • Altoprev, Mevacor (lovastatin)
  • Livalo (pitavastatin)
  • Pravachol (pravastatin)
  • Crestor (rosuvastatin)
  • Zocor (simvastatin)

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it better to take statins in the evening?

    Some statins have longer-lasting effects in the body than others. For certain statins that have a short duration of action, taking the dose in the evening may help the drug work better. This is because your body naturally makes more cholesterol while you are asleep. As long as you take your dose around the same time each day, the medication should keep working in your body the entire time between doses.

  • What will happen if I consume grapefruit or grapefruit juice with Lipitor?

    If you consume large amounts of grapefruit or grapefruit juice, you may have an increased risk for side effects such as muscle pain.

  • Is there anything I can do to reduce muscle pain and discomfort side effects from Lipitor?

    Before taking Lipitor, be sure to tell your healthcare provider about all of the medications and supplements that you currently take. This is important because certain drugs can increase the risk of side effects, including muscle pain.


    Some healthcare providers recommend taking a supplement called Coenzyme Q10 or “CoQ10” with statins. This is because clinical studies reviewed by the American Heart Association showed that supplementing CoQ10 along with a statin drug can relieve muscle pain, cramps, and weakness.


    Tell your healthcare provider if you develop muscle problems while taking Lipitor.

  • My healthcare provider is switching me from Lipitor to Crestor (rosuvastatin). Do I need to wean myself off of Lipitor before starting a different statin drug?

    No. It’s okay to stop taking Lipitor without “weaning” or reducing your dose first. To switch to Crestor, you’ll start Crestor the day after your last dose of Lipitor. You shouldn’t take more than one statin within the same day.

How Can I Stay Healthy While Taking Lipitor?

When your healthcare provider prescribes a new medication, it’s common to feel concerned about things like side effects. Millions of people have taken Lipitor for more than 25 years since it came on the market. Most people don’t experience any side effects from this medication. Some people notice mild side effects, but severe side effects are rare.

Understandably, some people do not like taking medications. You may prefer to try changing your diet and lifestyle instead of starting a drug like Lipitor. Sometimes changes in your diet alone may not be enough. High cholesterol can be genetic and run in families. Also, having untreated high cholesterol can put you at increased risk for a heart attack, stroke, or other serious health problem. Taking atorvastatin can lower your cholesterol and reduce these risks.

Healthcare providers recommend taking an active role in your health. In the case of high cholesterol, you can take an active role by taking Lipitor once a day and making changes to your diet and lifestyle. This may include reducing fried foods, red meat and saturated fats, and incorporating more whole foods into your day. If you’re not used to exercising, start with a short daily walk. Consider talking to your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s best for you.

Medical Disclaimer

Verywell Health's drug information is meant for educational purposes only and not intended as a replacement for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a healthcare provider. Consult your doctor before taking any new medication(s). IBM Watson Micromedex provides some of the drug content, as indicated on the page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bansal AB, Cassagnol M. Hmg-coa reductase inhibitors. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  2. Food & Drug Administration. Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) tablets, for oral use.

  3. Davies JT, Delfino SF, Feinberg CE, et al. Current and emerging uses of statins in clinical therapeutics: a reviewLipid Insights. 2016;9:13-29.

  4. Qu H, Guo M, Chai H, Wang W, Gao Z, Shi D. Effects of coenzyme q10 on statin-induced myopathy: an updated meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsJ Am Heart Assoc. 2018;7(19):e009835.

By Patricia Weiser, PharmD
Patricia Weiser, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist and freelance medical writer. She has more than 14 years of professional experience.