The Nation's Health + Reversal

Reversal: Lipitor 80 mg

I'm seeing more and more people taking 80 mg of Lipitor per day. For the most part, these are people who come in for another opinion after a stent or heart attack and are prescribed the drug during their hospitalization.

This practice is based on the results of the PROVE IT-TIMI 22 (PRavastatin Or atorVastatin Evaluation and Infection Therapy-Thrombolysis In Myocardial Infarction) trial, and the Reversal of Atherosclerosis with Aggressive Lipid Lowering (REVERSAL) trial, both reported in 2005. In the PROVE IT Trial, 4,000 people experiencing heart attacks were treated with Lipitor (atorvastatin), 80 mg, or Pravachol (pravastatin), 40 mg. There was a reduction in events like recurrent heart attack from 13.1% in the Pravachol group to 9.6% in the Lipitor group. In the REVERSAL Trial, the Lipitor group also showed no plaque growth compared to the Pravachol group, which did progress, with disease tracked by intracoronary ultrasound.

I believe that many of my colleagues took the bait. In a half-hearted effort to reduce events and trend towards better coronary plaque control, writing a prescription for 80 mg rather than a lower dose has become increasingly popular.

Some problems: Despite the favorable tolerance to high dose Lipitor in these trials, I don't know anybody who can tolerate 80 mg per day for more than a few months in real life. In my experience, people inevitably end up with intolerable muscle aches.

Also, I believe it is folly to believe that we can regress coronary plaque on a broad scale by just using one drug that addresses only a single cause (i.e., LDL cholesterol). Yes, drug companies would argue that the statin drugs are so wonderful because of their so-called "pleiotropic", or non-lipid, effects like reducing inflammation. I have seen regression of plaque once using Lipitor alone. We struggle to reduce coronary plaque using a multi-faceted approach. It is highly unlikely that Lipitor alone at a 80 mg dose will be sufficient in most people to regress plaque. How about lipoprotein(a)? Or vitamin D deficiency? Lipitor has no effect on these patterns and people do not regress just by taking statin agents.

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