Purpose Simvastatin and atorvastatin are metabolized by the CYP3A4 enzyme and transported by the ABCB1 transporter. We studied whether the polymorphism CYP3A4*1B and the polymorphisms C1236T, G2677A/T and C3435T in the ABCB1 gene were associated with a decrease of the prescribed dose or a switch to another cholesterol lowering drug during simvastatin and atorvastatin therapy. These events may indicate that statin plasma levels were too high and resulted in an adverse drug reaction or a too strong reduction in cholesterol level. Methods We identified 1239 incident simvastatin and atorvastatin users in the Rotterdam Study, a population-based cohort study. Associations between the polymorphisms in the CYP3A4 and ABCB1 gene and the time to a decrease in dose or a switch to another cholesterol lowering drug were studied using Cox proportional hazards. Results Simvastatin and atorvastatin users with the CYP3A4*1B variant G allele had a lower risk (HR 0.46; 95%CI 0.24-0.90) for these events than users with the wild-type AA genotype. No significant associations were found for the ABCB1 polymorphisms. The association with the CYP3A4*1B polymorphism was found in women (HR 0.33; 95%CI 0.12-0.89) and was non-significant in men (HR 0.69 95%CI 0.28-1.70). This association was stronger in patients with the ABCB1 3435T variant allele versus the G allele. Conclusion In simvastatin and atorvastatin users, the CYP3A4*1B G allele is associated with a lower risk of elevated statin plasma levels, particularly in women and in users with the ABCB1 3435T variant allele. Copyright (c) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.