Comparative tolerability of the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors

Drug Saf. 2000 Sep;23(3):197-213. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200023030-00003.


The availability of the 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors has revolutionised the treatment of lipid abnormalities in patients at risk for the development of coronary atherosclerosis. The relatively widespread experience with HMG-CoA therapy has allowed a clear picture to emerge concerning the relative tolerability of these agents. While HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors have been shown to decrease complications from atherosclerosis and to improve total mortality, concern has been raised as to the long term safety of these agents. They came under close scrutiny in early trials because ocular complications had been seen with older inhibitors of cholesterol synthesis. However, extensive evaluation demonstrated no significant adverse alteration of ophthalmological function by the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. Extensive experience with the potential adverse effect of the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors on hepatic function has accumulated. The effect on hepatic function for the various HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors is roughly dose-related and 1 to 3% of patients experience an increase in hepatic enzyme levels. The majority of liver abnormalities occur within the first 3 months of therapy and require monitoring. Rhabdomyolysis is an uncommon syndrome and occurs in approximately 0.1% of patients who receive HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor monotherapy. However, the incidence is increased when HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors are used in combination with agents that share a common metabolic path. The role of the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzyme system in drug-drug interactions involving HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors has been extensively studied. Atorvastatin, cerivastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin are predominantly metabolised by the CYP3A4 isozyme. Fluvastatin has several metabolic pathways which involve the CYP enzyme system. Pravastatin is not significantly metabolised by this enzyme and thus has theoretical advantage in combination therapy. The major interactions with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors in combination therapy involving rhabdomyolysis include fibric acid derivatives, erythromycin, cyclosporin and fluconazole. Additional concern has been raised relative to overzealous lowering of cholesterol which could occur due to the potency of therapy with these agents. Currently, there is no evidence from clinical trials of an increase in cardiovascular or total mortality associated with potent low density lipoprotein reduction. However, a threshold effect had been inferred by retrospective analysis of the Cholesterol and Recurrent Events study utilising pravastatin and the role of aggressive lipid therapy is currently being addressed in several large scale trials.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors* / adverse effects
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors* / therapeutic use
  • Hyperlipidemias / drug therapy*
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Visual Acuity / drug effects


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors