Q. My wife has been taking Lipitor for about three years. Two years ago she began to have memory problems, and they have gotten steadily worse since then.

She has been to a neurologist and there does not seem to be an organic cause for her memory loss. I am left wondering if Lipitor could be to blame. How long should she stay off it to see if her memory improves? Thank you for any information you can send us.

A. The issue of memory and statin cholesterol-lowering drugs is extremely controversial. Over the last decade we have heard from hundreds of readers who believe drugs like Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor (simvastatin) have led to their memory problems. These range from having difficulty with numbers or names all the way to transient global amnesia (TGA).

One reader wrote: “My mother-in-law was started on simvastatin to lower her cholesterol. Subsequently we noted a decline in her muscle strength and mental ability to the point where she was almost catatonic. My wife, with medical power of attorney, decided the risks outweighed the potential benefits and asked the doctor to stop the simvastatin. He agreed reluctantly to a two-week trial.

“The results were amazing. In a few days she began to feed herself again, then to play bingo. She is again quoting rhymes and is interacting with those around her in a normal way.”

We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control & Heart Health for more details on this controversy.

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  1. DC
    Reply

    What happens when the memory does not return?
    My husband was on Zocor and then Lipitor for at least three years to lower a slightly elevated cholesterol. When he first started taking cholesterol lowering drugs, there was no consideration for the ratio of good to bad cholesterol. Now we’re told that my husband’s good is very good.
    He stopped taking the drugs two years ago when we noticed a problem with memory and after my having read web comments about statins and possible memory issues, much to the chagrin of his neurologist.
    Prior to noticing memory being a problem, I remember my husband complaining of weakness in one of his arms. Although the weakness did not progress, the problems with memory did. Long term memory is still in tact, but short term memory is greatly impaired. My husband is 59 years old.

  2. Sean S.
    Reply

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  3. Su
    Reply

    My husband took zocor for nearly three years before it really caused a problem.
    One morning as he got out of bed, he could hardly walk and thought it might be arthritis.
    A few days later, he could not feed or dress himself. I told him it had to be the zocor as there were earlier signs as well.
    Tests showed that he did not have arthritis, but instead had muscle myopathy.
    Since that time, he has not taken any kind of statin drugs.
    We need to research almost every drug we take these days.
    Too many people are over medicated and cannot figure out why they are getting worse instead of better.

  4. Paul
    Reply

    In 1999 I was prescribed a statin for slightly elevated cholesterol (and no other heart disease indicators). It was lovastatin. I was told “this medication is well tolerated.” In 2005 there was an ulcer. Later other symptoms occurred: nausea, extreme fatigue, severe muscle pain, elevated blood sugar, and atypical neuropathy. By mid 2007 I was barely functioning.
    Five physicians and 60 physician visits later I was being treated with other medications for some of the symptoms mentioned above. When one physician recommended an INCREASE in statins, and a second agreed but recommended a switch to a different statin (simvastatin), statins were discontinued pending filling of a new prescription by mail. Within days symptoms began to subside. Within weeks all symptoms but one – nueropathy – were gone. And within months that too disappeared and normal life was restored.
    You must be your own physician!

  5. sheila H.
    Reply

    I DID take 200 to 400 mg dose of co-Q-10 while taking the red yeast rice; (it has natural statin); I noticed the same memory problems as with Lipitor and crestor; I still think (a hunch/gut feeling…) that reducing brain fats is what might be causing the memory problems.

  6. EC
    Reply

    I, too, had the same problems as others described here with the generic Lipitor (simvastatin). The muscle weakness got so bad that I couldn’t pick up a small package of toilet paper from the bottom shelf at the grocery store. I was 63 years old at the time and couldn’t for the life of me figure out was was happening – I could hardly walk anymore and couldn’t even lift pots and pans out of the cupboards, etc.
    After stopping the simvastatin I was back to my old self again in about a week. The doctor insisted I try it again which I did with the very same result – only this time I stopped taking the drug right away as I knew what the problem was.
    I am now taking Red Yeast Rice and haven’t noticed any particular difference in muscle strength or memory loss but at least I know what to look for now in terms of side effects.

  7. JR
    Reply

    You confirmed my suspicions that Crestor was causing the frightening change in my very bright husband.
    I protested to him and the Dr. until he agreed to change him to Zetia. He was not on anything for a few weeks in between and there was great improvement. After starting Zetia, it took longer, but he is right back where he was on Crestor.
    I am very upset about it and don’t know what is best. With the RXs, I can tell him something 5 times in an hour, and he still won’t remember. it.
    His parents ate sausage and eggs every morning for many years. She lived to 84, and he to 92 – in spite of 2 serious bouts with cancer.
    We think very highly of our DR. and don’t want to damage our relationship with him.
    I have also been suspicious that every week or two, an announcement is made about some wonderful new advantage that “may” result from statins. I think it is hype because people are beginning to turn away from them.
    I will deeply appreciate any advice.
    Thank you for all of the help you have given me over the years.

  8. cd
    Reply

    I have tried all statins. The worst was lipitor. Side effects muscle weakness, muscle cramps, unable to stand on 1 leg (unbalanced) severe headache, severe hair loss, weight gain (15 lbs in short time), memory loss, jerking motion when trying to pick up my pills. Am now on (ezetimbe) Zetia and have only very mild
    side effects. My hair is still falling out, like leaves falling of a tree in the fall. Will this ever stop and will my hair grow back??

  9. VC
    Reply

    In January, my doctor put me on Crestor once a week instead of the daily dose usually prescribed. (I had tried the daily regimen and had liver enzymes elevated a couple years ago.) My cholesterol went from 214
    down to 178 in 2 months. No liver problems were experienced on this schedule.
    Now, every time I get the RX filled the pharmacists ask me if I really only use one a week and I say yes….they are amazed. I do not have any unusual memory problems…only the usual for being 72.

  10. mike o
    Reply

    I don’t know if statins,in either synthetic or natural substances directly influence memory. Empirically, this seeems to be a side-effect. Perhaps this is occurs because of a big depletion or elimination of Co-enzyme Q10-something that occurs in the metabolism of the statins. It really does not make a lot of sense that physicians don’t suggest that Co-enzyme Q10 be a required supplement when statins are prescribed-unless it would be an acknowledgment of a generally recognized side-effect,which biochemically it is.
    I have a relative that had side-effects that effected his muscles while on statins, changed to Tricor and over time(2 yrs) started to exper. the same problems. Some research is definitely needed and it would be really healthful that supplementation therapy would help many better tolerate statins.

  11. Marie
    Reply

    Sure, statins can interfere with your memory.
    I have seen it in people close to me and I have also read hundreds of stories on the Internet.
    Now and then, I meet a person who is on statins.
    I usually ask if he/she ever
    had any symptoms that they thought might be side effects.
    Without hesitating several of them have said – yes, my memory has been affected.
    You will find a lot of comments on this site (search for statins)and also on http://www.medications.com and http://www.askapatient.com.
    All statins have similar side effects. Can come at once – or after many years.
    They are often ignored and many patients have been told that they will get heart attacks or stroke, die in advance etc. if they don´t take statins so they, naturally, think that the advantages are bigger than the risks.
    But there are different views on the whole cholesterol issue.
    Visit:
    http://www.thincs.org, http://www.ravnskov.nu, http://www.spacedoc.net
    Read for instance Anthony Colpos – The Great Cholesterol Con.
    Around the 20th of March the English newspaper – Daily Telegraph – published an article about statins.
    Google Daily Telegraph – search for statins and you will find the article about Christofer Hudson`s experience.
    There are also more than a hundred comments. Many of them about memory problems.
    The pharmaceutical companies have the money and that`s why their voices are the loudest.
    You as a patient/relative/friend have to look for other views, as well.
    Why not read Marcia Angell`s interesting book – The Truth About The Drug Companies?

  12. sheila H.
    Reply

    I have written a few times about the horrors of memory loss/difficulties from taking Crestor, then Lipitor; I call it a thief of memory. Some of my friends are on statins and most have some sort of problem with their memory. Some are using red yeast rice, and having slightly less problems with that (causing memory problems).
    Three weeks ago I tried using Red Yeast Rice to lower my cholesterol (which was 176). Within a couple of days I was having memory problems, again. I could not finish a sentence and was having problems thinking clearly. When I realized that it was “deja vu all over again” I stopped the red yeast rice and my memory became normal in about 2 full days; with LIPITOR, it took months and months to get back to normal. (There must be some connection with lowering cholesterol in the brain/body and memory.Mr. Graedon, could that be the root of the memory problems:lowering brain cholesterol?) Good luck, y’all.

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