Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: Tests for statin users

On call

Tests for statin users

Q. I am pretty healthy for a 73-year-old, but my cholesterol is 280, and my doctor wants me to take Lipitor. I'm willing to do so, but I need to know what tests I should have to be sure I'm not getting side effects. What do you suggest?

A. Like the five other statin drugs, atorvastatin (Lipitor) is a remarkably effective drug. On average, it will lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol by up to 60%, lower triglycerides by up to 40%, and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol by about 5% to 10%. Higher doses (up to 80 mg a day) will produce better results than lower doses (which start at 10 mg a day). Most importantly, statin drugs can substantially reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, with the greatest benefits going to men at the highest risk.

Like other statins, Lipitor is generally well tolerated. Still, you should be alert for side effects. Uncommon drug reactions include insomnia or vivid dreams, rash, breast sensitivity or enlargement, and erectile dysfunction. You don't need any tests to check for these problems; just listen to your body and report any sounds of discord to your doctor. Fortunately, these side effects will clear up once you stop the medication.

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