Lipitor® and simvastatin are both prescription statin medications used to lower LDL, or "bad," cholesterol and raise HDL, or "good," cholesterol levels in the blood. Doctors prescribe statins for patients with high cholesterol that is not adequately controlled with dietary changes. Though Lipitor® and simvastatin work in similar ways, there are differences between the two medications with relation to cost, dosage, and side effects.
Lipitor® is a brand-name drug manufactured by Pfizer. Simvastatin is a generic statin, often sold under the brand name Zocor®, which is manufactured by Merck, another major pharmaceutical company. Because simvastatin is available as a generic drug, the cost is often much less for both insured and uninsured patients.
Both Lipitor® and simvastatin are available as 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, and 80 mg tablets. Simvastatin is also available in a 5 mg tablet and an oral disintegrating tablet that does not require patients to swallow the pill in 10 mg, 20 mg, 40 mg, and 80 mg strengths. Patients who take Lipitor® often benefit from the same levels of cholesterol reduction while taking only half the amount they would require if they took simvastatin. While this is not an issue for patients who require lower doses of the drug, patients who take more than 40 mg of Lipitor® per day will not see the same benefits if they switch to simvastatin since the highest safe dosage of simvastatin is 80 mg per day.
While Lipitor® and simvastatin have similar side effects, including headache, diarrhea, and gas, some patients experience side effects while taking one medication that they do not experience while taking the other. Patients who complain of side effects while taking either Lipitor® or simvastatin may be switched to the other drug by their doctors to see if it causes fewer side effects. Both drugs have a low but serious risk of liver damage, and simvastatin carries an additional risk of muscle inflammation in some patients.
Patients who require a statin drug to help lower their cholesterol levels should work with their doctors to discuss the different drugs available, including the cost and insurance coverage of the price of the medications. Liver tests should be administered periodically during statin treatment no matter what drug the patient takes to monitor for severe side effects and liver damage. It is vital for patients to discuss any health conditions and medications they currently take with their doctors before taking Lipitor® or simvastatin, as other conditions may limit which drug the patient can take safely.