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.”

Barbara


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. JS
    Minnesota
    Reply

    Dosage and/or statin type may be a factor as well. Went for several years on Simvastatin at 40 mg with no side effects. Switched to Atorvastatin at 80 mg and middle back spasms at night and waking in am – other unexplained muscle pain that comes and goes. The back spasms were initially severe (blamed it on over exercise initially), but have diminished of late.
    I needed heart stents at age 51 so I know I need the statins. I just need to monitor this more closely now, thanks to insights from these forums, to stay on look-out for other statin side-effects.

  2. Ray
    North Carolina
    Reply

    I found this article/comment chain while searching the Internet for information regarding Atorvastatin and mental focus. Of course, there was a ton of data out there, from both professionals (M.D.s) and non-professionals. I don’t usually respond to these comment chains, but this one seemed recent and relevant.
    I was tempted to give my entire medical history here, but I’m not. I was fairly stable in my blood sugar and cholesterol numbers (I’m a Type II diabetic, diagnosed in 1999). Triglycerides though were double the high end.
    Doctors wanted me to take a statin drug, but I resisted due to the bad reputations. Finally one doctor insisted, saying that if I didn’t then I couldn’t renew my aviation Class 3 medical (I’m a private pilot). I reluctantly accepted.
    Without changing anything else in my drug/vitamin regiment, I added 80mg Atorvastatin, taken daily just before going to bed. Here are some of the side-effects:
    Leg/foot cramps at night.
    Nausea/vomiting at night (I have gone years and years without vomiting).
    Loss of mental focus (which makes doing my job nearly impossible).
    Some loss of balance.
    Increased depression/suicidal thoughts.
    Low-level, nearly constant, coughing.
    Loss of interest in just about everything.
    Now I realize that this could be due to drug & vitamin interactions, or any number of other things. And, depression has been a constant companion nearly all my life, but after starting Atorvastatin, it seems to have gotten worse… much worse.
    My cholesterol and triglycerides did, indeed come down fairly radically. My blood sugar, however, went up… HBA1C from 7.1 to 8.6. After research, I started taking COQ10, which did seem to help the blood sugar issue (neither of my doctors ever mentioned the COQ10 issue).
    I am tempted to get rid of not only the statin drugs, but the whole lot of these drugs. I feel that if I ate and exercised as I should, my numbers might be high, but manageable. It’s a balance between LENGTH of life and QUALITY of life… I’d rather live a shorter and higher quality of life than a longer and poorer quality. (My dad chose the longer/poorer route, and the last 10 years of his life were miserable.)
    So… there it is, my experience, for what it’s worth. Do your own research, make up your own mind… don’t let a doctor do it for you. Pay attention to what your body is telling you… you’ll know your own body and mind much, much better than anybody else ever will.

  3. Jeri
    Israel
    Reply

    I’ve been taking Revostatin 20 mg. for some time now – a few years. I have occasional pain in both of my arms at the inner elbow – like I can’t straighten them all the way (when they’re bent, I don’t feel the pain). I take Q-10 and believe it helps alot, but I still have these occasional pains in my arms & also muscle weakness & deteroration of my arm muscles. I also don’t have the energy I once had to run & exercise – I thought it was due to age, but maybe it has to do with the statins. I have some muscle creams that help some, and the pain isn’t constant. Any help for the arm pain would be appreciated!

  4. IRINA
    Ukraine
    Reply

    Hello, I am from Ukraine. My father was using statin Atoris 5 mg during 6 years.
    Then he went to the cardio-centre to check his state, to correct something and was prescribed by a doctor a higher dose of Atorvastatin, 20 mg.

    In his analyses I see only one cholesterin, it is 5,2. It is normal cholesterin. But my father was wearing some days a kind of registrator (analyzator) near heart and he said it was checking cholesterin too, but I am not sure in this way of checking cholesterin.
    He started to have awful shooting, burning and annoying pain in the right let, and right knee.
    In 2-3 or 4 weeks after visiting cardio-centre there was “collapse”! Something weird happend with my father.

    Right knee became swelled.
    Before, during one year before all this he had very slight pain in Left leg, but didn’t pay attention.
    So in cardio-centre he said about pain, they made electroforez with novocainum on his left leg, and after suddenly pain jumped on the right leg! But it was terrible for him. he was crying at home!

    Same time, in cardio-centre they found out he has light diabetes, 2 type.

    What coincidence! My father had no complaints, and they found all this and made worse! Or smth from them made it all worse.

    So after hospital my father lost near 15-20 kg, he has atrophied muscles, pain, migrating from leg to leg, mostly it is proximal pain (higher in legs), very intensive and very burning.

    During these 7 months we visited many doctors – 5 neurologists, 2 endocrinologists, 1 traumatologist, 1 vertebrologist, 1 rheumatologist, 1 arteria surgeon, 1 neuro surgeon, and maybe more, I don’t remember, we had tough life that time.

    Father was like dying, pale, blood pressure 90 -60, very weak, he became half-disabled. It was difficult for him to go upstairs and downstairs, with bought a stick for him.
    He fainted 4 times during all this illness. Ambulance checked his cardiograma and blood, all was ok, even sugar.

    Well, nobody could help us. Father took many many pills, injections and in vein to heal Diabetic neuropathy, but there is no result! And he has only light diabetes, and sugar in norm 4 months now.

    We did many investigations, MRT, ultra-sound scan, doplerography, x-rays of all legs, hip and knee joint, x-ray with barrium like colonoscopy, fibrogastroscopy (check of stomach), some blood analyses for onko markers, hepatitis, everything for suspicion and Electroneuromiography. We did all. Most of this checking shown Everything is okay, except some which we all have when we are old. Father is 60, sure he has problems here and there.

    By ENMG we were said father has damaged nerves in legs, periferical, it shows like polyneuropathy. Father was treated from diabetic neuropathy again! Again no luck, no less pain.

    All our doctors dont know what illness my father has. What is the reason. They presume only diabetes, but with big doubts…. too easy, plus we healed it…

    Father is tired, me too, we spent much money on investigations, and no result, much money on medicine – no result. But I can imagine what effect this medicine made to my father?… as they healed him without right diagnosis.

    The one thing I stick too is Statin. I have no reasons more, no variants.
    What is in instruction, even if it is RARE – my father has it!
    yes he took small doze, but during 6 years.

    Neuropatologists know very well mialgy, miozitis, i think they would presume it?… they didn’t…
    but maybe they didnt pay attention my father takes statins. They do their job.

    So from all, from time my father got very sick, ill, with “unknown” illness he has light diabetes 2 type, pankreatitis, atrophic gastritis, pain in muscles, damaged leg nerves, lost many kg, he is like skeleton, no knee and achilles reflexes, plus little anemia, yellowish face now, feels tired.

    But he has strength in muscles, he can exercise, but he is fed up to live with this pain.
    We did a break of statins in August, but we didn’t check if pain was less, we were fussy, busy, nervous, we thought father is dying from smth weird. But I think he had less pain, but we don’t know what from.
    Maybe it was during the break from statins.
    Now we started again, 1 month again now, and he has pain again, but he took 10 mg this time. But who knows what is happening inside his body? Where are his muscles?

    Okay, this is our story, I hope soon father will have improvement, bcs we have no ideas more where to go and what to do.
    Why doesnt any doctor know what is this illness?
    Maybe because it is rare statin side effect?

    But they say No, as always. If they say No, we wont get help. They know when they prescribe it, but they dont know if it hurt the body.

    If someone recognize same problem, please write me here

  5. Bonnie B.
    NC
    Reply

    I have been on a very minor dosage because I was having severe upper abdominal pain. I went to a gastroenterologist and he had several diagnostic tests done and literally found nothing. I mentioned the generic Lipitor and he agreed with me that this very well could be the culprit. I was told to stop the Atorvastatin. I returned to my PC Dr. And she said for me to return to the lowest possible dosage to keep my cholesterol levels down. Funny thing is, I have hypothyroidism and my Synthroid causes the elevated cholesterol just like the Atorvastatin causes blood sugar levels to rise. With my having fibromyalgia, a muscular disorder, it is quite painful to add the muscle issues with what I deal with already. Also, I have noticed the balance issues as well. Even my breasts have tenderness but the worst pain with which I deal is my lower back pain. I have read online that this is a side effect of the drug. I have now stopped it and will not return to it. Many of my friends had the same issues and switched to another statin drug and really like it, without the horrible side effects. Good luck to everyone so that you may feel better soon!

  6. kristina
    uk
    Reply

    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.

  7. Susan
    alabama
    Reply

    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!

  8. Richard
    uk
    Reply

    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
      Michigan
      Reply

      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
        Reply

        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.

  9. Barry
    United States
    Reply

    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.

  10. Eileen
    Martinsville, NJ
    Reply

    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.

    • IRINA
      Reply

      Hi, your cardiologist will say as ours “It is small dose, it is rare side effect, it can’t be…and pain would be not intensive”
      But she didn’t take it herself long time, so how can she know what pain is it….

  11. Paul
    United States
    Reply

    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.

  12. Kathy
    maryland
    Reply

    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.

  13. Carylon T.
    Ok
    Reply

    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.

  14. Larry L.
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    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.

  15. Halie
    New Jersey
    Reply

    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.
    Halie

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