Statin treatments are cholesterol lowering drugs that work in the liver to control cholesterol. These drugs lower LDL, or "bad," cholesterol and help raise levels of HDL, or "good," cholesterol. There are several different statin drugs that work in similar ways, including simvastatin, atorvastatin, lovastatin, rosuvastatin, pravastatin, and fluvastatin. Some statin treatments are combined with other medications, such as niacin, amlodipine, and ezetimibe.
Simvastatin and atorvastatin are the two most common statin treatments. They work in very similar ways, though lower doses of atorvastatin are often as effective as higher doses of simvastatin. Extremely high doses of statins can be dangerous, so patients who require high doses of atorvastatin to control their cholesterol levels may not be able to take simvastatin, as the dose needed would be too high to be safe. Simvastatin is available as a generic drug and as the brand name drug Zocor®, while atorvastatin is sold only as a brand name medication called Lipitor®.
Simvastatin often is combined with ezetimibe, a drug that helps prevent cholesterol from absorbing in the body, under the brand name Vytorin®. Simcor® is another simvastatin combination drug, which combines the statin with extended release niacin. Niacin is a vitamin that also helps control cholesterol levels, so it is often combined with statins and prescribed for patients who are not able to control their cholesterol effectively with a statin alone.
Lovastatin, or Mevacor®, is available in its regular formulation as well as an extended-release version. This drug is also available as a combination therapy with extended-release niacin under the brand name Advicor®. Rosuvastatin and pravastatin are other cholesterol lowering medications that are also used to help prevent heart attacks and reduce the risk of heart disease. Rosuvastatin, available under the brand name Crestor®, is one of the few statins that does not interact with grapefruit and grapefruit juice. Many other statins are broken down by the same enzymes responsible for metabolizing grapefruit, which can lead to dangerously high levels of the drug in a patient's body.
Fluvastatin is sold under the brand name Lescol®. It is available in both regular and extended release formulations. While fluvastatin is not prescribed as often as many other statin treatments, it can help treat high cholesterol in many patients who cannot take one of the other, more popular statins due to side effects or inefficiency.
Common side effects associated with statin treatments are similar for all statin drugs and include headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. While the drugs function in similar ways, some patients experience fewer side effects with one drug than with another. Doctors may change prescriptions for a patient who experiences problems from one statin to another to see if the side effects will diminish. In rare cases, statins can lead to liver problems, so patients who take these drugs undergo periodic liver tests to monitor for potential problems.