Vascepa (icosapent ethyl)

Medically Reviewed By Damilola Omopariola, PharmD, BCACP

About Vascepa

Vascepa is a brand-name prescription medication. It’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the following uses.

Vascepa does have a limitation of use. For details about this and the conditions it manages, see the “Vascepa: Uses” section below.

Key points

The following table provides key facts about Vascepa.

Active drug icosapent ethyl
Drug class antilipemic and omega-3 fatty acid
Form oral capsule

Finding a healthcare professional

If you’re interested in taking this drug, search here to find a doctor who might prescribe it.

Vascepa: Generic

Vascepa is a brand-name medication. It contains the active drug icosapent ethyl, which is also available in a generic form. A generic is an identical copy of the active drug found in a brand-name medication.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures that generic drugs are as safe and effective as their original drug. Generics tend to be less expensive than brand-name drugs.

If you’d like to know about taking the generic version of Vascepa, ask your doctor or pharmacist. They can tell you if the generic medication comes in forms and strengths recommended for your condition.

Vascepa: Side effects

As with most drugs, it’s possible to have side effects with Vascepa. These can include some mild side effects, but also some serious ones.

To learn more about Vascepa’s side effects, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They may also provide information about managing certain side effects of this drug.

Note: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracks side effects of drugs it has approved. If you would like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with Vascepa, you can do so through MedWatch.

Mild and serious side effects

Mild and serious side effects of Vascepa are listed in the table below. This table does not include all of Vascepa’s possible side effects.

Mild side effects* Serious side effects
• joint pain heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib)
• muscle pain† • severe bleeding
• constipation gout
• swelling in your hands, feet, or legs allergic reaction
• throat pain  

* This is not a complete list of Vascepa’s mild side effects. To learn about other mild side effects of this drug, ask your doctor or pharmacist. Or you can view the drug’s prescribing information.
† For more information about this side effect, see “Vascepa’s side effects explained” below.

Most times, mild side effects of a drug go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if any side effects become severe or don’t go away.

Serious side effects from Vascepa aren’t common, but they are possible. If you have serious side effects, call your doctor right away. However, if you’re having a medical emergency or your symptoms feel life threatening, call 911 or a local emergency number.

Vascepa’s side effects explained

Below, you can find detailed information about some of Vascepa’s side effects. To learn more about other side effects of this medication, talk with your doctor. 

Heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation

Treatment with Vascepa can cause heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib). The drug can also cause a heart rhythm problem called atrial flutter.

In rare cases, some people who took Vascepa in clinical studies needed treatment in the hospital due to a heart rhythm problem. Most people who took Vascepa in the studies didn’t have heart rhythm problems, though.

To learn more about how often this side effect occurred in clinical studies, see the drug’s prescribing information.

Symptoms of heart rhythm issues can include:

  • discomfort in your chest
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • fainting
  • palpitations (feeling that your heart is beating irregularly, pounding, racing, or skipping beats)
  • shortness of breath

You have a higher risk of heart rhythm problems with Vascepa if you’ve had AFib or atrial flutter in the past.

What to do

Call your doctor right away if you notice symptoms of heart rhythm problems while taking Vascepa. However, if your symptoms feel life threatening, call 911 or your local emergency number or go to the closest emergency room.

If your doctor confirms that you’re having a heart rhythm problem with Vascepa, they may suggest you stop taking the drug. Your doctor can discuss alternative treatment options with you.

Before starting Vascepa, let your doctor know if you’ve had a heart rhythm condition in the past.

Muscle pain

Muscle pain is a possible side effect of Vascepa. However, most people who took Vascepa in clinical studies didn’t report this side effect.

To learn more about how often this side effect occurred in clinical studies, see the drug’s prescribing information.

It’s important to note that muscle pain was more common in people who took Vascepa in combination with a statin. Statins are known to cause muscle pain as a side effect.

What to do

Talk with your doctor if you experience muscle pain while taking Vascepa.

If you’re taking Vascepa with a statin, your doctor may suggest any of the following:

  • lowering the dosage of the statin
  • switching to a different statin
  • stopping treatment with Vascepa

If your doctor believes Vascepa is the cause of your muscle pain, they’ll likely suggest you stop taking this medication.

Gout

Some people have gout as a side effect of Vascepa. This wasn’t common in the drug’s clinical studies, though.

To learn more about how often this side effect occurred in clinical studies, see the drug’s prescribing information.

Gout is a type of arthritis that affects your joints, most commonly in the big toe. It can also affect your fingers, elbows, wrists, ankles, and other joints.

Symptoms of gout can include any of the following around a joint:

What to do

If you notice symptoms of gout while taking Vascepa, call your doctor. They may suggest a treatment for your symptoms, such as colchicine (Colcrys). They may also recommend that you apply a cold compress to the affected joint.

Additionally, your doctor may advise that you stop treatment with Vascepa. They can discuss alternative treatment options with you.

Allergic reaction

As with most drugs, some people can have an allergic reaction after taking Vascepa. A more severe allergic reaction is rare but possible.

Possible symptoms of mild and serious allergic reactions are listed in the table below.

Mild allergic reaction symptoms Serious allergic reaction symptoms
flushing • swelling under your skin, possibly in your hands, feet, lips, or eyelids
rash • swelling in your throat or mouth
• itching trouble breathing

If you have an allergic reaction to Vascepa, call your doctor right away. This is important to do because the reaction could become severe.

However, if you’re having a medical emergency or your symptoms feel life threatening, call 911 or a local emergency number.

Vascepa: Uses

Prescription drugs such as Vascepa are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat certain conditions. A drug’s approved uses are called its indications.

Using Vascepa for reducing cardiovascular risks in certain people

Doctors can prescribe Vascepa in combination with statins to lower certain cardiovascular risks in some adults. These risks include heart attack, certain heart issues that require hospitalization, and stroke.

The drug can be prescribed for this use in adults with a triglyceride level of 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher, and either:

Having high triglycerides doesn’t typically cause symptoms. However, it can cause your arteries to become hardened and narrowed. This condition is called atherosclerosis. And it raises your cardiovascular risk, meaning you have a higher risk of events such as heart attack and stroke.

It’s not known for sure how Vascepa works to lower cardiovascular risks. However, it may be related to Vascepa’s ability to lower triglyceride levels. (See the “Using Vascepa for lowering triglyceride levels in certain people” section below to learn more about this use.)

Using Vascepa for lowering triglyceride levels in certain people

Doctors can prescribe Vascepa in combination with a heart-healthy diet to treat severe high triglyceride levels. This would be a level of 500 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher. The drug can be prescribed to adults for this purpose.

Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body makes naturally. They’re also found in some foods.

When you consume more calories than your body needs, especially from carbohydrates, your liver makes more triglycerides. Excess triglycerides are stored as fat in your body for later use. Your body can use the stored fats, including triglycerides, as energy for movement and other functions.

Having high triglycerides can result in your arteries becoming hardened and narrowed. This condition is called atherosclerosis. It increases your risk of heart disease and having a heart attack or stroke.

Vascepa works to lower triglycerides in these two ways:

  • reduces the amount of triglycerides made by your body
  • helps your body remove triglycerides from your blood

Vascepa’s limitation of use

The manufacturer of Vascepa has noted a limitation to this drug’s use. This is a situation in which Vascepa may not be recommended.

Having a severely high triglyceride level, which Vascepa treats, is known to increase your risk of pancreatitis. (With pancreatitis, your pancreas is inflamed.) However, it’s not known what effect, if any, Vascepa has on the risk of pancreatitis.

Taking Vascepa with other therapies

For lowering certain cardiovascular risks, you’ll take Vascepa in combination with a statin. Examples include atorvastatin (Lipitor) or rosuvastatin (Crestor). Your doctor will recommend the statin that’s right for you.

For treating a severe high triglyceride level, you may take Vascepa alone or with other medications. The drug is meant to be used in combination with a heart-healthy diet. Your doctor can tell you more about a treatment plan for lowering your triglyceride level.

Using Vascepa in children

Vascepa is not approved for use in children. It’s only approved for use in adults with the conditions described above.

Finding a healthcare professional for Vascepa

If you’d like, view our search page to find a healthcare professional who may prescribe Vascepa.

Vascepa: Dosage

Below, you’ll find dosages that are commonly recommended for Vascepa. However, you should take the dosage your doctor prescribes for you. They’ll recommend the dosage that’s best for your needs.

Vascepa’s forms and strengths

Vascepa is available as follows.

  • Form: oral capsule
  • Strengths:
    • 500 milligrams (mg)
    • 1,000 mg, which may also be written as 1 gram (g)

Vascepa’s recommended dosage

The recommended dosage for Vascepa in adults is described below. The drug’s dosage is the same for both of its approved uses. To learn about these, see the “Vascepa: Uses” section above.

Adult dosage

The recommended dosage for Vascepa in adults is as follows.

  • Dose: 2,000 mg, which may also be written as 2 g
  • Frequency: twice daily

Dosage considerations

Below are some things to consider about Vascepa’s dosage.

  • Missing a dose. If you miss a dose of Vascepa, try to take it as soon as you remember. However, if it’s almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose. Take your next dose at the regularly scheduled time. Do not take more than one dose of Vascepa at once. View these medication reminder options to help avoid missing doses. You could also set an alarm, use a timer, or download a reminder app on your phone.
  • Length of treatment. Doctors typically prescribe Vascepa as a long-term treatment. You’ll likely take it long term if you and your doctor feel it’s safe and effective for your condition.

Vascepa: Cost

As with other medications, prices for Vascepa may vary. The drug’s price will depend on factors such as:

Price considerations for Vascepa

Here’s a list of things to consider when looking into the cost of Vascepa.

  • Option for a 90-day supply. For some drugs, it’s possible to get a 90-day supply. If this option is approved by your insurance company, it can help lower the cost of the drug. It can also help you avoid frequent trips to your pharmacy. If you’d like to learn more about this option, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or insurance company.
  • Need for prior authorization. Before insurance coverage for Vascepa is approved, your insurance company may require prior authorization. In this case, your doctor and insurance company will communicate about your prescription for Vascepa. Then, the insurance company will decide if the drug will be covered. To find out if you need prior authorization for Vascepa, contact your insurance company.
  • Possible cost assistance options. Financial assistance to help lower the cost of Vascepa is available. The drug’s manufacturer offers the BlinkRx program as well as a savings card to help reduce cost. To learn more and see if you’re eligible for support, visit the manufacturer’s website. Also, check out this article to learn about ways to save on prescription drugs.
  • Use of a mail-order pharmacy. Vascepa may be dispensed through mail-order pharmacies. Getting your prescription through a mail-order pharmacy could lower its cost. It can also allow you to get the drug without leaving home. To find out more about this option, check with your doctor, pharmacist, or insurance company.
  • Availability of a generic form. Vascepa comes in a generic form called icosapent ethyl. A generic drug is an exact copy of the active drug in a brand-name medication. Generics are typically less expensive than brand-name drugs. If your doctor prescribes Vascepa, but you want to know about taking icosapent ethyl, talk with your doctor about which option might be better for you. Also, check your insurance plan because it might cover just one form or the other.

Vascepa: Alternatives

Doctors may prescribe drugs other than Vascepa for your condition. Certain drugs may work better for you than others.

Doctors prescribe Vascepa to reduce certain cardiovascular risks in some people. They also prescribe it to lower triglyceride levels in some people. Here’s a summary of other drugs that doctors sometimes prescribe for heart conditions. And here’s a list of common medications used for cholesterol treatment.

To learn more about one alternative to Vascepa, view the following article:

Your doctor can tell you about other similar drugs, such as other omega-3 fatty acids (Lovaza).

For more information about alternatives to Vascepa, ask your doctor. They can tell you about other medications that could be prescribed for your condition.

Vascepa: Questions you may have

Here are some common questions about Vascepa and brief answers to them. If you’d like to know more about these topics, ask your doctor.

Will I have weight loss with Vascepa?

No, weight loss isn’t expected with Vascepa. This wasn’t reported as a side effect in the drug’s clinical studies.

Keep in mind, for treating severe high triglyceride levels, Vascepa is meant to be used in combination with a heart-healthy diet. Following this type of diet may lead to weight loss in some people.

Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about weight changes or have questions about your weight.

Is Vascepa used for depression?

No, Vascepa isn’t approved for treating depression. Instead, Vascepa is approved to reduce certain cardiovascular risks in some people. It’s also approved to lower triglyceride levels in some people. To learn more about these uses, see the “Vascepa: Uses” section above.

Talk with your doctor if you’re interested in learning more about treatment options for depression.

What’s to know about Vascepa vs. statins?

Vascepa is used to reduce certain cardiovascular risks in some people. It’s also approved to lower triglyceride levels in some people. Statins can be used to lower triglycerides and other cholesterol levels, too. And similarly to Vascepa, statins are also used to reduce certain cardiovascular risks.   

Statins work by lowering the amount of cholesterol that’s made by your liver. They’re commonly prescribed for lowering cholesterol levels, cardiovascular risks, or both. And they’re usually prescribed for people with:

For lowering certain cardiovascular risks, your doctor will prescribe Vascepa in combination with a statin. Examples include atorvastatin (Lipitor) or rosuvastatin (Crestor).

To learn more about how Vascepa and statins compare, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Does Vascepa cause heart palpitations?

Vascepa may cause heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib). And heart palpitations can be a symptom of heart rhythm problems.

With palpitations, it may feel as though your heart is beating irregularly, pounding, racing, or skipping beats.

To learn more about Vascepa and heart rhythm problems, see “Vascepa’s side effects explained” in the “Vascepa: Side effects” section above. Talk with your doctor if you’d like more information.

Do doctors prescribe Vascepa for hyperlipidemia?

Hyperlipidemia refers to having a high lipid level in your blood. (Lipids are a type of fat.) A high triglyceride level, which Vascepa treats, is a form of hyperlipidemia.

To learn how Vascepa is used to treat high triglycerides, see the “Vascepa: Uses” section above.

Can I take Vascepa and fenofibrate together?

There’s no known interaction between Vascepa and fenofibrate (Tricor, others).

Similar to Vascepa, fenofibrate is used to treat high triglyceride levels. However, fenofibrate reduces other forms of cholesterol, too.

To learn about medications that may interact with Vascepa, view the “Vascepa: Interactions” section below. You can also talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Vascepa: Consuming alcohol during treatment

There’s no known interaction between Vascepa and alcohol.

However, alcohol can raise your triglyceride level. And Vascepa is prescribed to lower triglyceride levels in some people. So it may be best to limit your alcohol consumption while taking Vascepa.

If you drink alcohol, talk with your doctor about how much is safe for you to consume during treatment with Vascepa.

Vascepa: How it works

Doctors prescribe Vascepa in combination with statins to lower certain cardiovascular risks in some adults. They also prescribe it in combination with a heart-healthy diet to treat severe high triglyceride levels in adults.

If you’re prescribed Vascepa, you may be wondering how it works for these conditions. How a drug works is referred to as its mechanism of action.

Vascepa works to lower triglycerides in these two ways:

  • reduces the amount of triglycerides made by your body
  • helps your body remove triglycerides from your blood

It’s not understood how Vascepa works to lower cardiovascular risks. However, it may be related to Vascepa’s ability to lower triglyceride levels.

How long does Vascepa take to start working?

Vascepa begins working right away after you take a dose. However, you likely won’t feel the drug working. (This is because the conditions it manages may not cause symptoms.)

It may take several weeks before changes in your triglyceride level are seen on a blood test result.

Vascepa: Precautions

Tell your doctor about your health history before starting treatment with Vascepa. Your doctor may not recommend this medication if you have certain factors affecting your health or specific medical conditions.

These factors and conditions include those listed below.

  • Diabetes. Rarely, Vascepa can cause heart rhythm problems as a side effect. People with diabetes were more likely to have these side effects in Vascepa’s clinical studies. Your doctor may choose to monitor your heart rhythm closely if they prescribe Vascepa for you.
  • Heart rhythm problems. Treatment with Vascepa can cause certain heart rhythm problems. You may have a higher risk of heart rhythm problems with Vascepa if you’ve had atrial fibrillation (AFib) or atrial flutter in the past. Before taking this medication, tell your doctor about any heart rhythm conditions you have. Your doctor can recommend if Vascepa is safe for you.
  • Liver problems. Vascepa hasn’t been studied in people with liver problems. Keep in mind, your body removes Vascepa through processes in your liver. If your doctor prescribes Vascepa for you, they’ll likely monitor your liver health closely with certain blood tests during your treatment.
  • Fish or shellfish allergy. Vascepa is made from fish oil. So it may cause an allergic reaction if you have an allergy to fish or shellfish. Talk with your doctor about whether Vascepa is safe for you to take if you have a fish or shellfish allergy.
  • Allergic reaction. Your doctor will likely not prescribe Vascepa if you’ve had an allergic reaction to it or any of its ingredients. This is a contraindication for Vascepa’s use. (A contraindication is a factor or condition that could prevent your doctor from prescribing a drug due to a risk of harm.) To find out about other treatment options, talk with your doctor.
  • Pregnancy. If you’d like to learn more information about taking Vascepa while pregnant, view the “Vascepa: Taking while pregnant” section below.
  • Breastfeeding. If you’d like to learn more information about taking Vascepa while breastfeeding, view the “Vascepa: Taking while breastfeeding” section below.

To learn more about effects of Vascepa that could be harmful, see the “Vascepa: Side effects” section above.

Vascepa: How to take

Your doctor will recommend how you should take Vascepa. It’s important that you take the drug exactly as your doctor instructs.

Vascepa comes as an oral capsule. You’ll take the drug by swallowing it.

Questions about taking Vascepa

Here’s a list of common questions related to taking Vascepa.

  • When should I take Vascepa? You should take Vascepa twice each day. Because doses need to be taken with food, you may find it useful to take the first dose with breakfast and the second dose with dinner. View these medication reminder options to help avoid missing doses. You could also set an alarm, use a timer, or download a reminder app on your phone.
  • Do I need to take Vascepa with food? Yes, Vascepa should be taken with food.
  • Can Vascepa be chewed, split, or crushed? No, you should not chew, split, or crush Vascepa capsules. They must be swallowed whole. If you’re having trouble swallowing pills, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Is there a best time of day to take Vascepa? There’s no best time of day to take Vascepa. However, you should try to space out your doses, such as taking one dose in the morning and one dose in the evening.

Vascepa: Overdose

For some drugs, taking more than the recommended dosage may lead to unwanted side effects or overdose. Do not take more Vascepa than your doctor advises.

What to do if you take too much Vascepa

Call your doctor if you think you’ve taken too much of this drug. Also, you can call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222 or use its online tool. However, if your symptoms are severe, call 911 or your local emergency number. Or go to the nearest emergency room right away.

Vascepa: Interactions

Vascepa may interact with other medications.

Different interactions can cause different effects. Some interactions can interfere with a drug’s effectiveness. Others can increase a drug’s side effects or cause them to be severe.

If any of the interactions listed below might pertain to you, talk with your doctor. They can tell you what you need to do to avoid the interaction.

  • Vascepa and other medications. Because Vascepa may interact with the following drugs, your doctor may recommend that you don’t take it with these drugs. Examples include:
  • Vascepa and herbs and supplements. There aren’t any herbs and supplements known to interact with Vascepa. If you have questions about possible interactions, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Vascepa and foods. Certain medications interact with foods. However, there aren’t any foods known to interact with Vascepa. If you have questions about eating certain foods while taking this drug, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Vascepa: Taking while pregnant

Doctors aren’t sure whether it’s safe to take Vascepa during pregnancy. Vascepa has not been studied enough in pregnancy to know for sure.

If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, be sure to talk with your doctor. They can recommend the best medications for treating your condition. And they can discuss safe treatment options with you.

Vascepa and birth control needs

Doctors aren’t sure whether it’s safe to take Vascepa during pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about your birth control needs with Vascepa if you’re sexually active and you or your partner can become pregnant. Your doctor can recommend if you should use birth control with this medication.

Vascepa: Taking while breastfeeding

Vascepa can pass into breast milk. Doctors aren’t sure whether this can cause side effects in a child who is breastfed.

Talk with your doctor about safe treatments for your condition and feeding options for your child. They can recommend treatment and feeding plans that are safe and beneficial for you and your child.

Vascepa: Expiration, storage, and disposal

Here’s some information about Vascepa’s expiration date, as well as how to store and dispose of the drug.

  • Expiration. Your pharmacist will add an expiration date to the label on Vascepa’s bottle. This date is usually 1 year from the date the medication was dispensed to you. Expiration dates help ensure that a medication is effective during a period of time. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that you avoid using expired drugs. If you have an unused medication and it’s past the drug’s expiration date, talk with your pharmacist. They can let you know whether you might still be able to use the medication.
  • Storage. Many factors determine how long a medication remains good to use. These factors include how and where you store the drug. Vascepa capsules should be stored at room temperature, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C). For short periods, it can be stored at a temperature of 59°F to 86°F (15°C to 30°C). Avoid storing Vascepa in areas where it could get damp or wet, such as bathrooms.
  • Disposal. It’s important to safely dispose of Vascepa if you no longer need to take it and have unused medication. Doing so helps prevent others, including children and pets, from accidentally taking the drug. It also helps avoid causing harm to the environment. Ask your pharmacist for information about disposing of Vascepa. Also, check out this page for several tips on safe medication disposal.

Vascepa: Questions for your doctor

If you have questions about Vascepa, talk with your doctor. They can help advise you on whether Vascepa could be a good treatment option for you.

Here’s a list of questions you may want to ask your doctor:

  • If I take a fish oil supplement, should I stop taking it if my doctor prescribes Vascepa?
  • Do other medications I take increase my risk of side effects with Vascepa?
  • How will I know if Vascepa is working for me?

Your doctor may also tell you about other treatment options for your condition. You may find this article helpful in learning about alternative drugs for heart conditions. You can view this article for a list of cholesterol treatments. Also, check out our selection of videos on heart health.

Disclaimer: Healthgrades has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.

Medical Reviewer: Damilola Omopariola, PharmD, BCACP
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 18
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.