atorvastatin (Lipitor) vs. simvastatin (Zocor)

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Atorvastatin vs. simvastatin comparison

Atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor) are parts of a group of drugs called statins that revolutionized cholesterol management and heart disease prevention.

Atorvastatin and simvastatin both target the same chemical in the body to reduce drastically the bloodstream levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or "bad cholesterol"), which lowers the risk it will clog up arteries, a central cause of cardiovascular problems.

These drugs also modestly raise levels of "good cholesterol" (HDL or high-density lipoprotein).

Both Lipitor and Zocor are good for lowering LDL, but Zocor is better at increasing HDL and tends to have fewer gastrointestinal side effects, according to one study.

Both atorvastatin and simvastatin share some possible side effects, including:

Lipitor and Zocor differ on a number of other less serious side effects.

A large number of drugs interact with both atorvastatin and simvastatin, so be sure to tell your doctor about all your other medications if they prescribe you either of these cholesterol drugs.

What are atorvastatin and simvastatin?

Atorvastatin and simvastatin are both chemicals that interfere with liver cells' cholesterol production. They are in a family of statins which also includes:

The molecules of the medications target an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, one step in the chemical process cells use to fabricate cholesterol from simpler types of molecules. Because of this, statins are called "HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors."

Cholesterol is essential for many body functions, including hormone production, cell structure, lining of nerve cells, digestion, and more. The body can make all the cholesterol it needs, but foods also contain cholesterol the body can use.

A healthy liver can balance cholesterol levels, but too much cholesterol in the bloodstream in LDL form leads to a host of cardiovascular diseases. The excess LDL forms plaques on artery walls, narrowing blood vessels to cause clots and blockages that can lead to coronary heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and other debilitating or fatal problems.

Lipitor and Zocor, as well as other statins, stop the cholesterol-making process in the liver cells by grabbing onto and binding up HMG-CoA reductase before it becomes cholesterol, sabotaging the cell's cholesterol factory.

When the liver cells can't make enough of their own cholesterol anymore because of the statin treatment, the body's cholesterol balancing impulse kicks into action, causing liver cells to suck up more LDL from the bloodstream. The cells break down the LDL into cholesterol to make up for the shortfall in production. As a consequence, less LDL is floating around in the bloodstream to add to arterial plaque deposits, thus substantially reducing cardiovascular disease risk.

Statins like atorvastatin and simvastatin also modestly increase HDL (high-density lipoproteins) in the bloodstream, which is the so-called "good cholesterol." Good levels of HDL molecules are healthy because they act as scavenger molecules, grabbing LDL from the bloodstream and taking it to the liver for processing and removal.

Researchers don't yet understand exactly how statins increase HDL.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/2/2017
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