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Lipid lowering inefficacy of high-dose statin therapy due to concurrent use of phenytoin.

Abstract: HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors ("statins") are the most commonly prescribed lipid lowering agents. Most of the statins are metabolized by the CYP CYP

In currencies, this is the abbreviation for the Cyprus Pound.

The currency market, also known as the Foreign Exchange market, is the largest financial market in the world, with a daily average volume of over US $1 trillion.
450 cytochrome system. A number of medications either induce or inhibit this system which leads to changes in the bioavailability of the statins and the potential for either an increase in adverse effects or reduction in efficacy. Phenytoin phenytoin /phen·y·to·in/ (fen´i-toin?) an anticonvulsant used in the control of various kinds of epilepsy and of seizures associated with neurosurgery.

 induces the CYP3A4 isoform of the CYP450 system and can reduce the bioavailability, and thus the efficacy of the statins metabolized by this enzyme, including atorvastatin atorvastatin /ator·va·stat·in/ (ah-tor?vah-stat´in) an antihyperlipidemic agent that acts by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis, used as the calcium salt in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and other forms of dyslipidemia.  and lovastatin lovastatin /lo·va·stat·in/ (lo´vah-stat?in) an antihyperlipidemic agent that acts by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis, used in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and other forms of dyslipidemia and to lower the risks associated with . A case of a patient on multiple lipid-lowering medications, including high-dose atorvastatin whose LDL cholesterol improved significantly after discontinuation of phenytoin is presented, and a review of the literature for similar cases is discussed.

Key Words: CYP450, epilepsy, dyslipidemia, hypolipidemic agents, antiseizure medications

Case Report

A 61-year-old male was referred for further assessment of dyslipidemia. His past medical history was significant for coronary artery disease coronary artery disease, condition that results when the coronary arteries are narrowed or occluded, most commonly by atherosclerotic deposits of fibrous and fatty tissue. , CABG CABG coronary artery bypass graft.

coronary artery bypass graft

CABG Coronary artery bypass graft, see there
 at the age of 47, epilepsy, dyslipidemia and hypertension. He was asymptomatic at the time of assessment and the physical examination was unremarkable; specifically, there were no xanthelasmas, xanthomas, carotid or peripheral bruits. His family history was significant for hypercholesterolemia in his father. There was no history of premature CAD. His medications included aspirin 81 mg, fosinopril 20 mg/d, phenobarbital phenobarbital /phe·no·bar·bi·tal/ (fe?no-bahr´bi-tal) a long-acting barbiturate, used as the base or sodium salt as a sedative, hypnotic, and anticonvulsant.

 200 mg/d and phenytoin 500 mg/d. To his recollection, he had been on the same antiseizure medications for at least ten years. His lipid profile at the time of assessment was as follows: total cholesterol (TC) 330 mg/dL, LDL LDL - ["LDL: A Logic-Based Data-Language", S. Tsur et al, Proc VLDB 1986, Kyoto Japan, Aug 1986, pp.33-41].  256 mg/dL, HDL (Hardware Description Language) A language used to describe the functions of an electronic circuit for documentation, simulation or logic synthesis (or all three). Although many proprietary HDLs have been developed, Verilog and VHDL are the major standards.  38 mg/dL, triglycerides (TG) 195 mg/dL. He was compliant with his medications and diet, and denied alcohol abuse. There was no clinical or biochemical evidence of liver, renal or thyroid disease to suggest a secondary cause of dyslipidemia.

A diagnosis of familial hypercholesterolemia was made and given the significantly elevated LDL, it was decided to initiate treatment with atorvastatin 40 mg/d. The patient tolerated his medications without any side effects and denied any myalgias. His repeat lipid profile after eight weeks demonstrated a TC of 287 mg/dL, LDL 205 mg/dL, HDL 39 mg/dL and TG 210 mg/dL. As the LDL was still above target, the dose of atorvastatin was increased to 80 mg/d; in addition, ezetimibe 10 mg was added along with niacin; the dose of the latter was gradually increased to 2 g/d. The lipid profile on triple therapy for ten weeks was as follows: TC 246 mg/dL, LDL 165 mg/dL, HDL 55 mg/dL and TG 130 mg/dL. The patient subsequently had PTCA PTCA
percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty

PTCA Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty, see there
 following an acute coronary event and it was decided to discontinue the niacin and continue with atorvastatin and ezetimibe. A lipid profile two months later demonstrated a TC of 288 mg/dL, LDL 225 mg/dL, HDL 38 mg/dL and TG 124 mg/dL; the niacin was subsequently restarted. Given the lack of significant response to multiple lipid-lowering therapy, including a high dose of a potent statin, it was postulated that the phenytoin was affecting the bioavailability of the antilipidemic agents, particularly atorvastatin. As the patient had been seizure-free for over 15 years, it was decided, after consultation with the patient's neurologist, to discontinue the phenytoin. The patient continued with triple therapy for dyslipidemia and his repeat lipid profile two months after discontinuing the phenytoin demonstrated a TC of 190 mg/dL, LDL 110 mg/dL, HDL 55 mg/dL, and TG 130 mg/dL. The time course of his lipid profile and concurrent lipid-lowering medications are depicted in the Figure. Although his LDL currently remains above target on three lipid-lowering agents, it was reduced by about 50% after discontinuing phenytoin. To date, the patient has remained seizure-free for six months on phenobarbital monotherapy.


HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors ("statins") are the most widely used lipid lowering agents and in addition to their LDL-lowering effect and reduction in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality Morbidity and Mortality can refer to:
  • Morbidity & Mortality, a term used in medicine
  • Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a medical publication
See also
  • Morbidity, a medical term
  • Mortality, a medical term
, they also have additional beneficial effects due to their pleiotropic effects on the endothelium, plaque stabilization, etc. (1,2) Most of the statins are metabolized by the cytochrome P450 system. (3) The super family CYP450 is further divided into subfamilies depending on the degree of homology in amino acid sequences between the isozymes. Over 70 CYP families have been identified to date. Of the various subfamilies, the CYP2C, CYP2D and CYP3A subfamilies are involved in the metabolism of the most commonly prescribed drugs. The CYP3A subfamily subfamily /sub·fam·i·ly/ (sub´fam-i-le) a taxonomic division between a family and a tribe.

A taxonomic category ranking between a family and a genus.
 is the most abundant, followed by CYP2C subfamily and CYP2D. The major isozyme isozyme /iso·zyme/ (i´so-zim) one of the multiple forms in which an enzyme may exist in an organism or in different species, the various forms differing chemically, physically, or immunologically, but catalyzing the same reaction.  of the CYP3A subfamily is CYP3A4 and over 150 drugs are substrates of this enzyme. The inhibitors of the CYP enzymes would be expected to increase the concentration of its substrates and cause the potential for adverse effects, whereas inducers of the enzyme would be expected to lead to subtherapeutic sub·ther·a·peu·tic  
Below the dosage levels used to treat diseases: subtherapeutic feeding of penicillin to livestock.

 drug levels resulting in reduced efficacy. Although the list of inhibitors and inducers of the CYP enzymes is extensive, commonly used medications that inhibit the CYP enzymes include the macrolide antibiotics, cimetidine, antiretroviral agents, azole az·ole
A class of organic compounds having a five-membered heterocyclic ring with two double bonds; pyrrole.

 antifungal agents (ketoconazole ketoconazole /ke·to·co·na·zole/ (ke?to-kon´ah-zol) a derivative of imidazole used as an antifungal agent.

, itraconazole itraconazole /it·ra·co·na·zole/ (it?rah-kon´ah-zol) a triazoleantifungal used in a variety of infections.

, and fluconazole fluconazole /flu·con·a·zole/ (floo-kon´ah-zol) a triazoleantifungal used in the systemic treatment of candidiasis and cryptococcal meningitis.

), cyclosporine, grapefruit juice, etc. (4-6) Common inducers of the CYP enzymes include phenytoin, phenobarbital, carbamazepine carbamazepine /car·ba·maz·e·pine/ (kahr?bah-maz´e-pen) an anticonvulsant and analgesic used in the treatment of pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia and in epilepsy manifested by certain types of seizures. , rifampin rifampin (rĭfăm`pĭn), antibiotic used in the treatment of tuberculosis. It is also used to eliminate the meningococcus microorganism from carriers and to treat leprosy, or Hansen's disease.  and alcohol. (7)


When statin therapy is prescribed, the major clinical concern is the increased risk of rhabdomyolysis rhabdomyolysis /rhab·do·my·ol·y·sis/ (-mi-ol´i-sis) disintegration of striated muscle fibers with excretion of myoglobin in the urine.

 associated with their use, particularly if any medications that inhibit the CYP system are used concomitantly. (8) Of the various available statins, lovastatin, simvastatin simvastatin /sim·va·stat·in/ (sim´vah-stat?in) an antihyperlipidemic agent that acts by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis, used in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and other forms of dyslipidemia and to lower the risks associated  and atorvastatin are substrates of CYPA34 and thus would be subject to inhibition of metabolism by concomitant use of various agents that inhibit the system. (9) Cerivastatin cerivastatin Baycol® Cardiology Cholesterol-lowering, HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor/statin for managing hypercholesterolemia and mixed dyslipidemia; it ↑ HDL-C and ↓ LDL-C; withdrawn from the market as it was linked to rhabdomyolysis. See Statin. , which has been withdrawn, is also a substrate of CYPA34. (10) Fluvastatin fluvastatin /flu·va·stat·in/ (floo´vah-stat?in) an inhibitor of cholesterol biosynthesis used as the sodium salt in the treatment of hyperlipidemia and to slow the progression of atherosclerosis associated with coronary heart disease.  is metabolized primarily by CYP2C9 and this enzyme is inhibited weakly by agents such as ritonavir ritonavir /ri·to·na·vir/ (ri-to´nah-vir) an HIV protease inhibitor used in treatment of HIV infection and AIDS.

, cimetidine and azole antifungals. (3) Pravastatin pravastatin /prav·a·stat·in/ (prav´ah-stat?in) an antihyperlipidemic agent that acts by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis, used as the sodium salt in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and other forms of dyslipidemia and to lower the , on the other hand, is not metabolized by the CYP system and therefore its pharmacokinetics would not be expected to be significantly altered by concomitant use with inhibitors or inducers of CYP. (3) Rosuvastatin is not extensively metabolized but has some interaction with the CYP2C9 enzyme. (11) Phenytoin, phenobarbital and rifampin induce all of the CYP enzymes and thus carry the potential of lowering the availability of various drugs metabolized by the system. (12) It also needs to be appreciated that there may be significant interindividual variability in the extent of drug interactions, as CYP enzymes show genetic polymorphisms which may result in significant variability of drug metabolizing capabilities. In the future, genotyping of these enzymes should provide invaluable information and minimize the risk of drug-drug interactions. (13)

In the case presented, the patient's LDL level remained significantly elevated despite the use of three antilipidemic agents. In general, one would expect up to a 60% reduction in LDL from baseline with 80 mg of atorvastatin; adding ezetimibe would be expected to lead to a further 15 to 20% reduction in LDL, and niacin would lead to further lowering of LDL by another 15 to 30%. Yet, the patient's LDL was reduced by <40% from baseline despite three agents. However, after discontinuing the phenytoin, the LDL was further reduced significantly to 110 mg/dL. Although phenytoin was not reintroduced at a later date to demonstrate the reversal of the beneficial effect that was seen upon its discontinuation, it is felt that the circumstantial evidence presented in this case is enough to strongly suggest a cause and effect relationship. Theoretically, pravastatin or perhaps rosuvastatin could have provided greater LDL-lowering effect in the presence of phenytoin, because of their lack of metabolism by the CYP450 system; this however was not attempted. Although it was appreciated that the patient was on phenobarbital which also induces CYP450 and could have reduced the bioavailability of atorvastatin, it was decided by the author, based on a published case report, (12) to discontinue phenytoin initially. This was in concert with the neurologist's recommendation as well.

This case illustrates an important drug interaction of the statin class of medications. Cases of rhabdomyolysis associated with various statins due to concomitant use of drugs inhibiting the CYP450 systems have been widely reported in the literature; however, reduction in the efficacy of statins due to use of inducers of the CYP450 is not well appreciated. The author is aware of one other case report demonstrating a similar effect of phenytoin on the pharmacokinetics of simvastatin and atorvastatin. (12) It is believed that this case will highlight and provide further insight into the drug interactions of this important and commonly prescribed class of medications. It is suggested that in patients on medications such as phenytoin whose lipid levels remain significantly elevated on statins, consideration should be given to either discontinuing the antiseizure medication if it is deemed safe to do so, or switching to an antiseizure medication which does not induce the CYP450 system. If the antiseizure medications cannot be switched, using statins which are not metabolized by CYP3A4, such as fluvastatin, pravastatin or rosuvastatin instead of atorvastatin can be tried.


1. Wiviott SD, de Lemos JA, Cannon CP, et al. A tale of two trials: a comparison of the post-acute coronary syndrome lipid-lowering trials A to Z and PROVE IT-TIMI 22. Circulation 2006;113:1406-1414.

2. Ray KK, Cannon CP. Early time to benefit with intensive statin treatment: could it be the pleiotropic effects? Am J Cardiol 2005;96:54F-60F.

3. Williams D, Feely J. Pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic drug interactions with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. Clin Pharmacokinet 2002;41:343-370.

4. Piacentini N, Trifiro G, Tari M, et al. Statin-macrolide interaction risk: a population-based study throughout a general practice database. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 2005;61:615-620.

5. Fichtenbaum CJ, Gerber JG. Interactions between antiretroviral drugs and drugs used for the therapy of the metabolic complications encountered during HIV HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), either of two closely related retroviruses that invade T-helper lymphocytes and are responsible for AIDS. There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is responsible for the vast majority of AIDS in the United States.  infection. Clin Pharmacokinet 2002;41:1195-1211.

6. Maxa JL, Melton LB, Ogu CC, et al. Rhabdomyolysis after concomitant use of cyclosporine, simvastatin, gemfibrozil, and itraconazole. Ann Pharmacother 2002;36:820-823.

7. Bellosta S, Paoletti R, Corsini A. Safety of statins: focus on clinical pharmacokinetics and drug interactions. Circulation 2004;109(23 Suppl 1):III-50-III-57.

8. Silva MA, Swanson AC, Gandhi PJ, et al. Statin-related adverse events: a meta-analysis. Clin Ther 2006;28:26-35.

9. Lennernas H. Clinical pharmacokinetics of atorvastatin. Clin Pharmacokinet 2003;42:1141-1160.

10. Muck W. Clinical pharmacokinetics of cerivastatin. Clin Pharmacokinet 2000;39:99-116.

11. Rosenson RS. Rosuvastatin: a new inhibitor of HMG-coA reductase for the treatment of dyslipidemia. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther 2003;4:495-505.

12. Murphy MJ, Dominiczak MH. Efficacy of statin therapy: possible effect of phenytoin. Postgrad Med J 1999;75:359-360.

13. Lee LS, Nafziger AN, Bertino JS Jr. Evaluation of inhibitory drug interactions during drug development: genetic polymorphisms must be considered. Clin Pharmacol Ther 2005;78:1-6.

Hasnain M. Khandwala, MD, FRCPC FRCPC Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada  

From the Division of Endocrinology, University of Saskatchewan The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is a coeducational public research university located on the east side of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The University is celebrating its centennial year in 2007. , Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Reprint requests to Hasnain M. Khandwala, MD, FRCPC, LMC Endocrinology Centers, 412-1235 Trafalgar Road, Oakville, ON, Canada L6H 3P1. Email:

Accepted July 10, 2006.


* HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors ("statins") are the most commonly prescribed lipid-lowering agents and most of them (atorvastatin, cerivastatin, lovastatin, simvastatin) are metabolized by the CYP3A4 isoform of the CYP450 cytoehrome system.

* Phenytoin induces the CYP450 system and can reduce the bioavailability and thus the efficacy of statins.

* Physicians should be aware of the interaction between statins and phenytoin and consider either discontinuing the antiseizure medication if possible, or instituting agents which do not induce the CYP450 system.
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Title Annotation:Case Report
Author:Khandwala, Hasnain M.
Publication:Southern Medical Journal
Article Type:Clinical report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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