Vascepa (Icosapent Ethyl)
What is Vascepa (Icosapent Ethyl)?
Vascepa (icosapent ethyl) is an omega-3 fatty acid that functions as a lipid-lowering or lipid-regulating agent to reduce high levels of triglycerides in patients that have diabetes, a preexisting heart condition, and one or more additional heart-related conditions and are at risk of experiencing heart complications. By reducing the levels of triglycerides in the individual using the medication, Vascepa is able to help lower a patient’s risk of needing certain heart surgeries, being hospitalized due to chest pain, or dying from stroke, heart attack, or other types of heart disease. It is typically used alongside other cholesterol medications known as “statins.”
How is Vascepa Used?
Vascepa is available in capsule form and is typically taken twice per day with food. The patient’s doctor will determine the appropriate dosage for their condition, and patients should stick to their doctor’s instructions regarding dosage and frequency when using this medication. Dosage may vary based on a patient’s health condition as well as their age, weight, and any other medications they may currently be using.
When taking Vascepa, the capsules should not be crushed, chewed, dissolved, or broken open. They should be swallowed whole and consumed with food.
This medication may be used either by itself for treatment or alongside additional medications.
Vascepa should be stored at room temperature, ranging between 68°F (20°C) and 77°F (25°C). This medication may be exposed to temperatures between 59°F (15°C) and 86°F (30°F) for short durations if needed, such as in the case of travel.
Keep this medication out of the reach of children and pets at all times.
If disposal of any unused or expired Vascepa is required, patients should not toss this medication in the trash, pour the capsules down a sink, or flush them. Please contact your local pharmacy or waste disposal company regarding the safe disposal of this medication.
Vascepa is prescribed for the treatment of the following conditions:
- hypertriglyceridemia (high triglyceride levels)
- hypertriglyceridemia accompanied by diabetes, preexisting heart conditions, and two or more additional cardiovascular risk factors
When Vascepa is used for the treatment of hypertriglyceridemia by itself, patients will often be advised to follow a low-fat diet to assist in lowering their high triglyceride levels.
When using Vascepa to treat hypertriglyceridemia in those who have diabetes, a history of heart-related problems, and two or more additional cardiovascular risk factors, this medication will often be used alongside treatment with cholesterol-lowering statin medications.
How Does Vascepa Work?
Vascepa is capable of decreasing the liver’s production of VLDL triglycerides, or very low-density lipoprotein triglycerides, as well as removing these from a patient’s system. The combination of these two functions results in an overall reduction of a patient’s high triglyceride levels when struggling with hypertriglyceridemia.
It has not been determined exactly how Vascepa functions in regard to improving cardiovascular health and reducing a patient’s risk of heart-related illness or conditions aside from addressing the hypertriglyceridemia that may be contributing to these issues.
Vascepa is available in capsule form in the following strengths:
The most common daily dosage prescribed for treatment will be either four of the 0.5 g capsules twice per day or two of the 1 g capsules twice per day. If a patient’s doctor prescribes a different dosage for the treatment of their specific health condition, they should follow their doctor’s instructions and not make changes to their dosing schedule without prior consultation.
If a patient has consumed too much Vascepa or an overdose is suspected, they should contact their local Poison Control Center or doctor as soon as possible. If the individual that has consumed too much Vascepa is at a higher risk of experiencing an allergic reaction (i.e., those who have hypersensitivities or allergies to fish or shellfish), they should seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Vascepa has been associated with a number of side effects that vary among patients using the medication. The most common side effects of taking Vascepa are as follows:
- bone pain
- edema in the hands, feet, or ankles
- joint pain
- mild allergic reactions
- muscle pain
- oral pain
- throat pain
The following side effects are less common but still linked to the use of Vascepa. Patients that experience any of the following serious side effects should seek medical attention:
- atrial fibrillation
- atrial flutter
- severe allergic reactions
Please seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction while taking Vascepa:
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of the eyelids
- swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
- swelling of the hands or feet
Warnings & Precautions
Vascepa has been associated with a number of significant health risks for those with allergies and preexisting heart conditions, as well as patients who are currently taking other certain medications. Please be sure to discuss all current medications and your medical history with your physician before beginning treatment with Vascepa.
Although a direct link has not been formally established, patients with preexisting allergies to fish or shellfish are advised to use caution when taking Vascepa. Due to the increased risk of allergic reactions in those that are hypersensitive to fish and shellfish, extra caution should be used when taking this medication. If a patient has a sensitivity or allergy to shellfish or fish, they should discuss these allergies with their doctor before beginning treatment with Vascepa. If a patient with a sensitivity or allergy develops symptoms of an allergic reaction when taking Vascepa, they should seek medical attention immediately.
Atrial Fibrillation/Atrial Flutter
Patients with a history of experiencing atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation are at risk of these conditions either recurring or worsening when using Vascepa. Vascepa has been linked to instances of patients experiencing atrial flutter or fibrillation that were significant enough to require hospitalization. This risk is higher for those using the medication while also having preexisting diagnoses of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Vascepa has been linked to an increased risk of bleeding based on the results of a clinical trial. When taking Vascepa along with additional antithrombotic medications (i.e., warfarin, clopidogrel, aspirin), this risk is further increased. In clinical trials, 12% of the patients using Vascepa experienced some type of bleeding event, and 3% of these patients experienced bleeding events that were notably serious. Patients using medications that may thin the blood or that come with bleeding risks should discuss this medication use with their physician before beginning treatment with Vascepa.
Inflammation of the pancreas caused by high levels of triglycerides, known as pancreatitis, should not be treated with Vascepa. Although Vascepa is effective at reducing a patient’s high triglyceride levels, it has not been studied as an effective treatment for pancreatitis occurring due to these significantly high levels.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Vascepa is not advised for use during pregnancy unless the patient’s doctor deems the risks of the medication worth the benefits to the patient’s health. Patients using Vascepa are advised to avoid becoming pregnant while using this medication and should contact their prescribing physician immediately if they do become pregnant during treatment.
Vascepa may pass into a patient’s breast milk, and this may lead to the infant receiving this individual’s breast milk being exposed to the ingredients in Vascepa. If you are breastfeeding or desiring to breastfeed while using this medication, please speak to your doctor about the potential risks to any infant that may be consuming breast milk that may contain traces of Vascepa.
Speak to your doctor about any medications or herbal supplements you are currently taking before beginning treatment with Vascepa. Discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor or a trusted pharmacist.
Drugs Known to Interact with Vascepa
The following medications are known to interact with Vascepa and may increase your chances of experiencing adverse side effects or other health concerns:
- low molecular weight heparins
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Drugs That Should Not Be Used with Vascepa
The following substances should not be used alongside Vascepa:
For patients who are unable to take Vascepa or experiencing significant adverse side effects, alternative medications may be used to treat some of the associated conditions for which this medication is commonly prescribed:
- fenofibrate (Antara, Fenoglide, Fibricor, Lipofen, TriCor, Triglide, Trilipix)
- omega-3 ethyl esters (Lovaza)