Lipid targets can be difficult to attain in familial hypercholesterolaemia.To compare atorvastatin with simvastatin-fenofibrate and simvastatin-cholestyramine therapy, we studied 54 patients with familial hypercholesterolaemia over periods of 2-6 months on each therapeutic regimen. The atorvastatin regimen reduced total cholesterol by 41.2 +/- 11.2%, LDL by 45.6 +/- 15.5%, triglycerides by 33.8 +/- 24.8%, and increased HDL by 2.3 +/- 37.0%. Simvastatin-fenofibrate therapy achieved reductions of 33.9 +/- 8.5% in cholesterol, 42.0 +/- 12.2% in LDL, 34.7 +/- 38.3% for triglycerides, and a 25.4 +/- 55.1% increase in HDL. Simvastatin-cholestyramine gave a reduction of 31.3 +/- 11.8% in cholesterol, 36.0 +/- 14.4% in LDL, 13.7 +/- 36.3% in triglycerides, and a 1.1 +/- 30.3% rise in HDL. The atorvastatin regimen was marginally but not significantly better than simvastatin-fenofibrate in improving the LDL:HDL ratio, LDL:apoB and apolipoprotein B:A1 ratios. Eleven patients (20.4%) had side-effects: two discontinued atorvastatin due to side-effects; two patients had rashes; six had myalgia and two had diarrhoea. Gastrointestinal side-effects were described in 16 (30.1%) patients on simvastatin-cholestyramine therapy and four cases of myalgia (11.2%) were seen with simvastatin-fenofibrate. In nine patients on atorvastatin (20.4%) a 30% or greater fall in HDL was observed, compared to five patients with resin therapy (9.2%) and two with fibrate therapy (5.5%). There were no significant differences in liver or muscle biochemistry between the regimens, but atorvastatin did raise transaminase and creatine kinase concentrations significantly compared to pre-treatment values (p=0.001). Atorvastatin significantly improves the lipid profile in most patients compared with other regimens. It has a comparable incidence of side-effects to combination therapy regimens.