It is not entirely clear why Lipitor became the most successful drug in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. Tens of millions of people have taken Lipitor to lower their bad LDL cholesterol. It is estimated that sales of this single drug brought in over $130 billion to Pfizer, its manufacturer. No other drug in history has ever come close to this mind boggling number.
Now that Lipitor has become available in its generic form as atorvastatin, it will no doubt continue to be taken by millions of patients, though the cost will clearly come down. Despite its popularity with physicians and its clear ability to bring cholesterol numbers down, there are some serious side effects to contend with. Many of these complications were not discovered until years after the drug was on the market.
We have been reporting on muscle and memory problems for a very long time. Initially, we were criticized by physicians for bringing these adverse drug events to the attention of patients on the grounds that statins in general and Lipitor in particular were life savers and we shouldn’t in any way discourage their use. But we received so many stories of devastating complications that we could not remain silent. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of messages we have been receiving for more than a decade:

“I believe that I had the following symptoms from taking Lipitor which disappeared once I stopped taking the drug. (I’d been on it for five years so dismissed the symptoms at first). Eventually I was so ill that I told my doctor “I feel like a toxic substance is inside me.”
“While I had complained of fatigue and myalgia [muscle pain], it was blown off. But then, I started feeling a cramp in my right arm which woke me when I slept. It was horribly painful and I thought it was from a lot of computer work.
“Eventually my right hand became so weak that I had to use my left hand to aid my right hand just to put down a cup of coffee. I didn’t have enough strength to do it with one arm.
“Then, slowly, I began to feel some memory problems, something that never troubled me before Lipitor. I’d find myself starting to be afraid to go some places that required my mind to click (because in looking back–I was having trouble focusing.) One night I was at an intersection in my car waiting for the light to turn. I drove through the red light. I missed some cars that went by and suddenly realized that I was so confused that I couldn’t think straight.
“When I got off the drug, I had no more muscle pains, no more weakness in my arms and my mind is sharp as a tack.”


I was on Lipitor for some time and three years ago had a day of transient global amnesia [TGA]. I knew people, but had no idea of time, day or year. My short-term memory was less than a minute (eg. I knew I had eaten a doughnut because I could still taste it).
“I had a CT Scan, echocardiogram and was hospitalized for 24 hours and was told that my diagnosis was TGA and that it probably wouldn’t happen again. Of course the doctors denied that it could be Lipitor.”

Memory loss and muscle problems are now recognized as complications linked to statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs. It took a long time to realize that atorvastatin and other statins could also raise blood sugar. We received a signal about this complication long before the FDA acknowledged it could be a problem:

“I was recently informed after a series of tests over a six-month period that my blood glucose levels were elevated. I have been taking Lipitor for about a year or so and was wondering if this drug could be associated with my rise in blood glucose levels. I don’t want to take medications that improve one medical situation (lower my cholesterol) and make another (blood glucose) worse.”
Betty, January, 2003

Atorvastatin Side Effects & Complications

• Muscle pain or spasms (any where in the body, including legs, shoulders, back, arms or neck)
• Arthritis
• Blood sugar elevation
• Memory problems, cognitive dysfunction, confusion, amnesia
• Nerve pain, peripheral neuropathy, leg cramps
• Digestive upset, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence
• Headache
• Insomnia
• Urinary tract infections
• Skin reactions, hives
• Pancreatitis
• Sexual problems, erectile dysfunction

What we do not know is how common some of these side effects may be. Until recently the FDA assumed that memory problems and blood sugar elevation were so rare as to be almost forgettable. Now the FDA has acknowledged that these are real problems. How common are sexual problems with statins? No one really knows. What about arthritis, nerve pain, cataracts or peripheral neuropathy? Again we are clueless. We suspect that such side effects are more common with statins than most health professionals realize. And people who are susceptible to some statin complications may be especially prone to multiple problems.
We recognize that some people really do need these medications to prevent a heart attack or a stroke. The data suggest that people who have clearly diagnosed heart disease can benefit. Those who have had one heart attack can reduce the risk of a second by taking a statin. And many individuals never suffer any side effects from statins. Good for them. They are fortunate.
Others are not so lucky. We don’t know what the true incidence of some of the so-called minor side effects really is. That’s why we need your help. Please let us know how you or someone you love has fared on a statin-type drug. You can comment below. Thanks for letting us know about your experience. And one more thing…no one should stop a statin without consulting the prescriber. We do not want anyone to go from the frying pan into the fire. Your doctor needs to know about how you are doing on any medication, especially a statin!
Finally, should you be interested in the inside story about some of these problems you will find our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them of interest. You may also appreciate our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy with a wide range of options to deal with things like high cholesterol, hypertension and arthritis. They can all be found in The People’s Pharmacy Store.
And please comment below on your experience with atorvastatin or other statin-type cholesterol-lowerind drugs.

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  1. kristina

    I have been on atorvastatin for nearly a year, and have developed extreme pain in my feet, and am now noticing that my memory for names etc has become very slow, about 2 hours behind…….didn’t actually have a heart attack, but have a narrowing in artery….thinking of going to doctor to see if any alternative medicine.

  2. Susan

    I just started taking Lipitor,after reading all the comments, I’m very concerned about this drug and don’t want to take it. I have a history of heart disease in my family.
    Very confused!

  3. Richard

    Its very difficult to decide which drug is causing what, as statins have a bad reputation, its very easy to mentally obsessively attribute many and any symptoms to that particular drug.

    Also people that are on statins are usually on other drugs, which may or may not cause interactions… myself, I feel that I don’t like to take drugs… but it’s the Doctor’s way of getting you out of the door, it has become so acceptable to expect to leave the Doctor’s office with a prescription. There is also the fear factor that once you have had heart problems, you are putting your life in danger if you don’t take them
    I have had a heart attack and bypass surgery, I am on atorvastatin, but I also had muscular problems before, and degenerative disc, which causes leg pain. I keep going on and off medications because I don’t want muscular pain, but I don’t want another heart attack either.

    • Diann

      Sorry Richard, your reply doesn’t apply to me. I take no other prescription drugs, I don’t have any other condition, only high LDL. There is no confusion over what drug was causing severe abdominal and muscular pain, as Lipitor was the only drug I took and it was the first time I have ever been put on any prescription drug treatment.

      • Diann

        By the way, I was only on Lipitor for a week when these debilitating muscular pains started. Called doctor and stopped the Lipitor. We are now evaluating alternative treatments to combating my high LDL.

  4. Barry
    United States

    I am 67 and have been taking Lipitor (1st 20mg and then 10mg) for about 12 years now. My cholesterol initially dropped from about 258 to around 210. It is now averaging 198. In the last two years, I have been taking the generic Atorvastatin made in India, I think. I have experienced some of the effects described here, but they were minimal, like sore muscles. I attributed that to my running regimen. Recently, I have had some pretty painful calf and foot cramps. I just recently started having more joint pain than normal. My right foot started to feel like it was broken or sprained. I had to stop running for a week. Then it was ok for a few days and came back again. I didn’t do anything to injure it. I am thinking of taking a one week break from the Atorvastatin to see what happens.

  5. Eileen
    Martinsville, NJ

    I am in total shock reading all of the comments – sounds just like what I’ve been experiencing these past 9 months since they switched me to this drug. Until today, I thought possibly I was suffering from early dementia as well as severe arthritis in my knees (I’m only in my 50s), but I don’t think that’s the case. I’d be very curious to see what my cardiologist is going to say when I tell him I want to get off this drug. It has however lowered by cholesterol but at what cost!

    Thank you for helping me get educated about this medication.

  6. Paul
    United States

    I have had many of the same symptoms as the people are describing here. I got off the generic lipitor but I feel there is permanent damage. I am having trouble with walking and balance. I am having trouble building strength in my muscles. I can get an erection but cannot maintain it. The ballon loses air. I am having nerve damage that results in my legs sometimes feeling like dead uncontrollable weights. It appears to be getting worse everyday now.
    I cannot walk for any length of time. I am 66 and was on the drug until april of 2012. I was a diabetic before taking the medicine and have written the symptoms off as diabetic related but I see that the drug cause high blood sugar. Going to a neurologist on the 24th of November. I have had every kind of artery scan that I can think of but no blockages have been revealed to me. I was a very strong man but am very weak now.

  7. Kathy

    I have been on generic Lipitor since my heart attacks and surgery in May 2014. A couple of months ago it was increased from 40mg to 80mg. Since that time I constantly battle with leg cramps and memory loss. The memory loss and loss of focus is getting so bad that i am about to lose my job. I don’t know what to do. I feel like i am loosing my mind at times. I am only 51 years old.

  8. Carylon T.

    Less than one month after beginning Lipitor medication of 40 MG, I started to have joint pain in my knees. Now it feels like my knees are going out on me. My doctor said it was not Lipitor through a phone call with the receptionist. I am bewildered and wondering what to do.

  9. Larry L.

    I was on Lipitor for more than 10 years and during those ten years I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I began having major muscle spasms in legs feet and hands. Muscles would lock up, rock hard till I either walked it off or a rubbed it. A year ago I was switched to the generic Statin, made in India. Then the major problems occurred with the muscles. Felt like the flu every day. I got permission to come off and then those same areas of spasms turned into crippling problems with arthritic pain in joints. Now it’s Prednisone in mass doses. But the flu symptoms are gone.

  10. Halie
    New Jersey

    My husband is taking lipitor for 8 years now. Within last 3 years I’ve noticed he has memory loss and almost amnesia and black holes about some events and situations. He also has shoulder and arm pain and it is really bad. His sexual activity is also affected and causes his moodiness and overall apathy. He had 2 incidents of confusion, not realizing for 30-40 seconds what was going on, didn’t remember what was said or who talked to him. After negative tests (MRI and EEG) he was prescribed Keppra – and diagnosed with absence seizures! That is most likely just going to cause more problems and side effects! And it is possible that it is all caused by lipitor! He is taking 40 mg pill ones a day. He is going to his neurologist in 2 days and I will definitely ask if he should slowly stop taking Lipitor.

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