Four Things to Know About Over-the-Counter Lipitor

Could a cholesterol lowering medication be the next to no longer require a prescription from a physician? News Pfizer is recruiting participants for a clinical study prompted two St. Louis College of Pharmacy students to take a closer look at Lipitor and the four things patients need to know about the medication.

1.) What is Lipitor? Lipitor (atorvastatin) belongs to a class of medications known as statins. Lipitor and other statins lower the levels of cholesterol (LDL) in the body. High levels of LDL, dubbed the bad cholesterol, have been found to increase the risk of heart disease which includes heart attacks and heart failure. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.

2.) Side Effects. Overall this class of medications is very well-tolerated and patients do not often have side effects. Some people experience unexplained muscle pain while using a statin. In extreme, but very rare cases, statins can cause a life-treating condition known as rhabdomyolysis where patients have severe pain caused by muscle break down. If it is not treated immediately, it can result in kidney damage.

3.) New Guidelines. The American Heart Association recently released new guidelines for the use of statins. Prior to the new guidelines, dosing of statins was based on a person’s bad cholesterol levels. Under the new guidelines statins are prescribed based on risk factors for heart disease. The dose of atorvastatin that could soon be available over-the-counter is a lower dose than many patients may require.

4.) It Has Been Done Before. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved an over the counter statin, but in the United Kingdom simvastatin (a statin like Lipitor) has been over the counter since 2004. In the UK, pharmacists are required to counsel patients and ask them a series of questions before they are allowed to buy the medication. Pharmacists are in charge of who receives simvastatin. American physicians usually run tests to look at the patient’s liver function before starting simvastatin.

About the Authors: Chris Fuchs and Sarah Tesoro are fifth-year students at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Reviewed by Anastasia Armbruster, Pharm.D., BCPS assistant professor of pharmacy practice

Related Links