a bottle of crestor and a bottle of lipitor

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. Caroline
    Barnoldswick, Lancashire

    I have been on simvostatin for several years but just over a year ago I was diagnosed with early coronary heart disease and at first was put on 40 mg of atorvastatin increased to 80 mg. I eat healthily and have been to Slimming World and go to the local sports centre 5 days a week. My memory has become worse and short term memory is awful. I am getting confused all the time and my family think I am developing Alzeimers. I know I’m not. I decided to look up about atorvastatin and was gobsmacked re the memory problems and confusion. I lost my mobile 2 days ago when out walking my dog on fields I have walked for years . I was lost and had no idea where I was. Relieved that it could be down to this drug and not starting with Alzeimers.

  2. Mary Z
    Boerne, Texas

    I started atorvastatin 40 mg in August 2015 to further lower LDL (80) because of a very high calcium score (over 1500) for my right coronary artery. I also changed my diet and began a more rigorous exercise program, but my LDL only went down to 72 in 4 months. And I stopped dreaming and woke up not feeling rested, had trouble starting to urinate, but otherwise felt okay. I asked my cardiologist if I could increase the dosage. Since I started taking 60 mg on December 15th, I feel like an old sick woman. I am lifeless, have low energy, it’s fatigue really, don’t care about things I used to love, and in general am cranky and even belligerent at times. But now the worst is that I have these localized flashes of severe pain in certain parts of my head… worse than headaches… and a cough. I don’t think I will be able to continue at this dose, sadly, because I want to reduce my risk for a heart attack. Is there any other stating as effective with fewer side effects?

  3. Jane

    Just started taking Lipitor and immediately have experienced leg pains I keep cutting it back but even when taking 10mg every other day I get leg pains. After reading all the other people who have had problems, I’m thinking of stopping it.

  4. Jeffrey

    About 5 years ago I took Simvastatin. After about 10 weeks, my left knee swelled. I stopped the Simvastatin and the swelling went away. I resumed taking Simvastatin and the swelling returned. I took the Simvastatin for a few more days and the swelling expanded down to my left ankle. Again I stopped taking the drug and the swelling went away. My internist at first agreed with me, but on my next visit he changed his mind and wanted me to resume. I found another doctor who actually cares about me.

  5. Brian

    Seven weeks after being prescribed Atorvastatin (10mg) for Cholesterol control (it was only 4.4! I suddenly experienced middle of the night frighteningly rapid heart beat which took 15 min to subside, this has continued for 16 various acaisions over 4 months. Dropped statin after 6 weeks symptoms not yet ceased. D’r s don’t agree on link – but it can’t be a coincedence!! any others with similar experience?

  6. Karen

    I have been on atorvastatin for about 3 years. My major complaint is the cough; I developed a cough that sounds like I smoke at least a pack a day. I don’t smoke at all!

    I know it is the atorvastatin because for 1 week I was without the meds and the cough went away. When I started it again, it returned.

    I’m done with statins. Drastically changing my diet for results.

  7. Bonnie

    I started 10mg of (generic brand) lipitor in June. About four weeks into taking the drug I went to the emergency room. My vision was spinning and turning side ways. It happened three times one morning before noon. I thought I had a tumor or worse having a stroke. They drew blood, & did several other tests. I also had a cat scan. They came back with a diagnosis of Vertigo.. So I let that go and thought “Well~ old age & another blessing of ageing”! During these past five months I have had blurred vision at times, while on computer or when reading text messages on phone. Also, during the first four months I had itching that would prevent me from sleeping and or wake me up out of a sleep. Again. I’m thinking age related ~ Now this past month I have had severe lower back aches. For no apparent reason.

    I was visiting my sister-in-law and told her about my Vertigo, she then asked what drugs was I taking? I told her and she suggested going off and see if it makes a difference.. Well I came home and researched the drug. All of my symptoms are related to this drug…Needless to say I stopped taking it… It’s been a week now…I will never take that drug again..I opt for natural drugs, vitamins & anything that will not cause other life altering problems…I am 64…High cholesterol is a health risk but I don’t want to damage other organs or have all the side effects from this drug…Diet~exercise~ my plan…Hope everyone does research before taking this drug..

  8. marcus

    I have joint pain and elbow pain on the left hand I’m feeling fatigue.. Sex problems when having sex. However I can get an erection and ejaculation but my penis is numb no feeling an orgasm at all .. Just need to know if my joint pains is minor should i stop taking it ? My pills are 20mg …

  9. donna

    I began generic Lipitor around 1 year ago and did not make the connection when I first hyperextended my right elbow in my gym class then the left. Then I thought I had a blood clot in the back of my left knee because there was pain. Almost like the elbows. Then in an unrelated event I had a hysterectomy.

    While healing I was stiff and sore. I thought it was the healing process? anesthesia? Then the elbow again but hey – I’m not at the gym…I’m barely moving…. wtf? I thought again about blood clots (I had been on yaz) so asked doctor who said it could be the lipitor.

    I stopped the drug and she did tests which came back negative but I got much much worse in the next week. I could barely get out of a chair and was walking like monkey – legs bent and spread apart… attractive for a lady.

    Most of the pain was in the groin/hips, and also shoulders, with radiating pain in my wrists and fingers, neck pain and lower back pain. It was difficult to sleep because my shoulders were so sore… my doctor refuses to believe it’s the drug because of the test (test for muscle wasting) and thinks it’s osteo arthritis. No way – until my surgery I rehab houses and was a total gym rat…. boot camp, kick boxing, weights… no way. I would have known. She gave me prednisone. I lost the pills (oh did I mention my memory is on the fritz!!!!!) so I started ibuprofen. 2 days later I feel looser.

    I’m going to keep on the ibuprofen for a few more days and then if I still am in pain I will take the prednisone (I found it after 2 days of searching it was sitting in the middle of the kitchen counter) but I am curious which one is working so I won’t overlap. So…a bit looser and less hip/groin pain but still lots of pain shooting from my butt into my left leg.

    This has been terrifying. I was worried it would be permanent. I’m still not sure. waiting and hoping. 49 yrs old. Too young to be a cripple. I will never ever ever take a statin again. ever.

  10. Carole

    I am 52 and have been taking 10 mg of Lipitor for approximately five years. I have developed severe joint pain, some memory problems, sleep disruptions, and occasional increased heart rate. Although I eat a healthful diet (semi-vegetarian), exercise at least 3X/wk, and have maintained a healthy weight for years, I dismissed my symptoms to aging and menopause. The joint and muscle pain became so severe that I had to give up a yoga class I had been taking for years. After consulting with my doctor, I have reduced my Rx to 4-5X/wk, but have not seen much improvement. I now have a rotator cuff injury and the onset of arthritis in my left hand that make me question if Lipitor has contributed or aggravated my problems.

  11. Mike
    Rhode Island

    I am 58 years old and I took atorvastatin for over a year. My doctor prescribed 20 mg a day and after reading online that as little as 3 mg a day can lower your cholesterol significantly I started taking a third of a tablet every other day. I later upped the dosage to 10 mg every other day and my cholesterol went from about 250 down to 195 at 1/3 tablet down to 158 with 10 mg every other day and all seemed fine until I started to have tightness in my right leg muscles than pain in my right hip, than the left hip and also my left ankle. I was literally to the point that I could barely walk up stairs. My doctor said to stop taking Atorvastatin to see if that brought improvement which it gradually has. Thought I had used caution but apparently this drug does not agree with me. Maybe I can go 2 weeks on 2 weeks off or something like that?

    • Freda

      Why ? Why take it? total cholesterol at 200 isn’t bad.

  12. Sara

    I am 26 and had a cholesterol level of 228. I was in the hospital for 48 hours for a possible stroke and was told to take a baby aspirin in the morning and the 20mg of Atorvastatin before bed. I’ve only been taking it for a week, and am experiencing so many symptoms. They still aren’t sure if I had a stroke or something else (like the possibility of having multiple schlerosis) that is affecting my brain. I thought my side effects were perhaps the possible MS that was worsening perhaps, but after reading these comments I am stopping it ASAP.
    My side effects that I have only noticed since I started atorvastatin:
    -Muscle weakness
    -Extreme fatigue(worsens each day)
    -Neck muscle weakness and pain (my head now bobs a bit)
    -My writing has noticeably worsened
    -Really frequent urination
    -Arm muscle pain
    -Amnesia and severe confusion
    -Trouble sleeping
    -Headaches right after taking (atorvastatin)

    And these are just some of the most noticeable symptoms, I also get hot flashes now.

    Basically, I’m NOT myself and everyone around me has noticed this. I’ve also become somewhat afraid to leave my house (not sure if that is to do with the drug) My mother-in-law led me to research this drug and it’s effects. I just hope nothing is permanent, because it’s already enough that people can barely understand me when I speak now. And to add all of this to the mix, it’s more frustrating.

    I will continue eating healthier and add exercise as soon as the fatigue fades away. I will also continue taking the baby aspirin in the mornings.

  13. Al

    I’m 52 and started taking Lipitor and an 81 mg aspirin a day the first part of January this year after being diagnosed with fairly high cholesterol. Started having stomach issues in May, and extreme tiredness and memory problems in August, forgetting names and things that I had known all my life. But didn’t realize this could be the Lipitor until reading about some of the possible side effects in September. Just recently started having tingling and slight numbness in my right foot and big toe. Wondering if I should take a hiatus for a week or two to see if these symptoms go away. I have avoided going to the doctor for most of my life for anything other that sinus infections and have been fairly healthy otherwise. My doctor is not very responsive to patient concerns, just that “he knows what’s best”. Maybe I should look for another physician as well…..

    • Dennis
      San Diego,Ca.

      Hi Al,that what doctors do when they see a persons cholesterol numbers go up,prescribe a statin drug,they did it to me and a lot of my friends that we were all about your age now when the numbers started to go up on us too.Need to know how many mgs. of the Lipitor or our you taking the generic Atovastatin?

  14. Denis

    I’ve been on Atorvastatin for about 2 years after I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I have been having leg cramps,hip pain[left side], numbness in same leg, tingling in toes,hands[I play bass guitar and sometimes I cant feel my fingers on the fretboard]. If I stand while I talk to someone at work for a few minutes,my leg goes numb from my hip to my foot[kinda like when your leg/arm “Falls asleep”] I’ve had to sit down and wait for the tingling to go away. I also take a medication for HBP and since I’ve been on that,I have had NO sex drive of any kind. I cannot get or keep an erection,it has been 15 months since my wife and I have attempted to have sex. After reading all of these side effects,I am seriously thinking about stopping for a couple of weeks to see if the hip/leg pain/numbness goes away. My GP said she will have a specialist come by to tell me that” For every day you take this,it’s a day you will be alive and not have a heart attack!” Starting to doubt that ! Going to bookmark this page and come back in a couple of weeks and update . Thank you everyone.

  15. Carol
    Conyers, GA

    I have been on Atorvastatin (Lipitor) for a year and a half, almost. I had a massive heart attack at 58 years old and at that time my cholesterol was over 300. I have always had high (genetic) cholesterol but never took cholesterol medicine.
    My experience with this statin drug has been like many of you. I feel 80 years old- my body aches badly all of the time. I have severe cramping in my feet and hands. (I am also type 2 diabetic with neuropathy in both hands and feet). My lower back hurts most of the time and I waddle when I walk, shifting back and forth, whenever I get up from a sitting position. It is embarrassing to me and also painful. I go back to the doctor for my check-up tomorrow and I plan to discuss this issue once again for alternatives. I do not want my cholesterol to rise….
    I am trying to get back on a work out routine because I need to lose quite a bit of weight. I used to walk daily but have not been able to for months. My working out has come to a complete stop for over a year. I hope we can find a way to lose the pain and get me on a good regimen again….

  16. JB

    I have been on Atorvastatin for about 6 weeks now. I started noticing some ED and slightly blurred vision in addition to generally not feeling well.

  17. Loretta Lagerholm
    New Jersey

    My nephrologist started me on 20 mg of Lipitor for elevated cholesterol in March. At my visit to my Diabetes doctor in September, my blood tests showed elevated liver enzymes, increased A1C and glucose serum readings. My cholesterol was lower. He suggested that I stop the Lipitor for two weeks. I immediately noticed that ailments I had been having ceased to exist when I stopped the Lipitor. I had been experiencing nausea, indigestion, extreme tiredness, lack of appetite, craving for carbs, pain in my shoulder and left arm muscle that wakes me up at night. Occasional leg cramping is less of a problem. I will retest in two days for liver enzymes. I had no problem taking Crestor. I will not take Lipitor any longer.

  18. Sanders

    My husband was started 5 weeks ago on lipitor after a heart attack. He now has severe back, knee and elbow pain. Going to the cardiologist on Tuesday, definitely one of the top questions for him.

  19. Steve

    My doctor prescribed Lipitor about 2 years later I was told I had elevated blood suger levels. 1 year after that I was told I had type 2 Diabetes. I key taking Lipitor with no other problems for almost 10 years, Then my precription plan would only pay for the generic Atorvastin. That is when my problems started after 2 or 3 months I could hardly walk. I felt as if I was an old man. I was 55 at the time and very active. I am a Carpenter by trade and was Building myself a new home and could hardly do any of the work. My doctor was no help so I stopped taking the pills and about 1 month later I could then stand up straight and walk with no pain, I will never take any type of those pills again.

  20. Kim

    My mom was on statins (Zetia & Lipitor jointly) for a couple of years and then for an 8week period could not walk without assistance. Her doctor stopped her meds for that period and then readjusted her meds once she was able to walk again. Now ever since she ‘s been on statins her walking has become noticeably slower. Forward 4 years and she again is having problems walking, shuffling her feet, and now has memory problems. We have told the doctor she no longer can take these meds because of the horrible side effects. It has been 7 weeks of no meds and the side effects don’t seem to be getting better. Totally at a loss and starting to become discouraged.

  21. Debbie
    Corpus Christi TX

    I’ve been on statins for about 15 years due to hereditary high colesrtol. I’m thin & am in good health at 51. They switched me to Lipitor a few years ago & I never thought I had problems with it. However in the last few months I’ve had neck back & arm pain during the night (I take my pull before bed) I’d never have linked it until someone made a comment about it & I started looking into it. Since I have no other health issues, doc agreed to stopping for a month to see what happens….

  22. Mike

    Two years ago I had a TIA and prescribed Simvastatin to reduce the possibility of a heart attack. During my second year I noticed a derioration in my health, with increased tremors and loss of coordination. In June I had two attacks which were similar to TIA but because of my descriptions of my health in general, the doctors suspected some form of neurological problem. Interestingly one of your correspondents described problems with temporary memory loss similar to my experience. I was aware of my surroundings but could not remember names of people or how to use my mobile phone to call home for example.
    Various tests have proved negative. In the meantime, as I was aware of potential problems with long term use particularly with Simvastatin, which is known to be more toxic than Atorvastatin, I persuaded my GP to prescribe Atorvastatin.
    The symptoms have now disappeared and I am back to my previous good health.
    Nevertheless, judging by the comments from other contributors, there is no certainty that there will not be an effect from Atorvastatin sooner or later.
    I therefore thank them for their comments, and intend discussing the matter again with my GP.

  23. Jen L

    I have been taking this drug for a few years now. I have been having a lot of cramping in neck, arms, stomach,and legs. I have spasms and been having headaches. My forgetfulness I thought was just me lol. But today I went to the doctor and told him what I have been feeling for about two months and he strongly thinks it is from this drug and I am now stopping the drug for two weeks to see if it is the problem. I am praying it is after reading that for most this goes away once it drug is stopped. Just want to feel better!!!

  24. Kay

    Just wondering if the joint pain I am experiencing is related to Atorvastatin. I was taking Pravastatin for 2 years then my GP changed me to Atorvastatin and after 2 weeks I suddenly had severe pain in my pelvic area which then radiated into my right leg. Had lots of ultrasounds and yesterday an MRI scan. After reading these articles I have decided to discuss with my GP whether to stop taking Atorvastatin in the hope the pain will improve.

  25. Helen

    I took atorvistatin for 2 months. I developed severeuscke cramping in my hips which became increasingly debilitating . Even after quitting, 9 months later I’m still experiencing this extreme pain. It has completely altered my life.

  26. Rama

    Got very bad abdominal pain
    Lower back pan after taking for 1 month. After stopping all the pains are gone.

  27. Richard

    Due to mildly elevated cholesterol I was originally prescribed to take Zetia as alternative to a statin. This worked well in controlling my numbers, and I took it for several years without any issues.

    In February of this year my (new) doctor changed me to Atorvastatin for reason that he believed it would be more effective and at much lower cost. A couple of months later I started developing severe leg cramps which awakened me from sleep every morning. I also developed painful finger cramps the would cause both of my index fingers to lock at a 90 degree angle relative to my hands, and would not subside for several minutes.

    Further, I developed tennis elbow in my left arm which would not allow me to participate in golf for several weeks. I complained to the doctor and was put through blood tests to check my electrolite levels. It was prescribed that I use cold pack for my elbow and to eat an orange every day for the cramps.

    Nothing seemed to help until one day I was doing a web search in attempt to determine cause for the leg and hand cramps. Atorvastatin was mentioned as a possible issue. I did a trial hault from taking the medication for a couple of weeks. The leg and finger cramps totally went away within one day, and the tennis elbow lasted about 10 days. The doctor insists that the change wasn’t due to the medication, but I got a prescription renewal for Zetia and I have been pain free for over a month.

  28. E

    Have been having the aches and pains, feel really drained,and dizzy most of the time. Lately getting the tingling in my hands, and legs. Have been on lipitor for 4 months now.

  29. Kay

    My husband started taking this drug about 2 years ago. He ended up with ED, tingling in his hands, constantly complaining of all over body soreness, leg cramps, headaches and more. He decided to stop taking it yesterday so he can see if there is any improvement. He acts and sounds like he’s 80 and he’s only 56. Hopefully he will feel better.

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