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. Rosanne P.
    North Carolina

    I am on 10 mg Lipitor for 7 months. Always had 200 reading on my cholesterol. Dr said I had to take it. I’m 58 with family history of heart attacks.

    The last month, I began to feel like an old person! My shoulders ache, my hands seem so weak, painful fingers. My legs are always in pain, it keeps me up at night. When I get up after sitting, my body seems to not want to work. I said to my husband that I think I need a cane! He keeps telling me to rest. I’m exhausted, all the time. I feel so old! I’m so glad I stumbled on to this website! I will get in touch with my MD and stop the Lipitor.

  2. Shirley
    Washington State

    This drug has made me feel like an old er person of advanced years. I have gotten weak, my muscles ache my knees hurt, memory loss, pancreas pain, and increase of Flem in my throat making me throw up. I’ve been on this for approximately a year. My family kept telling me about my forgetfulness and I didn’t believe them until I started adding up all the symptoms. It even hurts to sit for any length of time. I stopped taking it and will see the dr. In a few days.

  3. Ralph

    My GP advised me to stop Lipitor for 30 days and resume again with 20mg daily. I was taking 40mg. I had been on it for about 3.5 yrs. after a heart attack and stent. I was experiencing severe muscle pain during the night. I was finding myself getting angry and frustrated at the most minor things. After 3-4 days off of statins, I am sleeping better, much less muscle aches and pains. Emotionally I am feeling better!
    I might even stay off of statins for good after the 30 days! But will discuss this with my doctor first. He says that in his practice, many people cannot tolerate statins very well. So he understands the situation.

  4. AJ

    I had my first dose of Atorvastatin last night. It said to take at bedtime, so I did. I was awake all night. Today, besides being tired, I have a bad headache, leg and arm pains and stomach issues. This it the first long term prescription med I’ve ever been on, but think I’m deciding to be done with it. Everything I’m reading about it is much scarier to me than slightly high LDL’s. I’m uping my fiber, exercise and bean intake and will now only use olive oil products rather than anything with trans-fats. I’m determined to do this on my own without the statin already!

  5. Mary
    Pontiac, Michigan

    My mother is 89 y.o. Was placed on several different medication for high cholestrol . She experience different side effects so her doctor would change the meds to either Liptor next Crestor and each one of them had terrible side effects. she spoke with another Dr. he told her to stop taking them. By that time the damage appear to have been done. Now she has been diagnosed with Peripheral Neuropathy. She feels no pain, has numbness throughout her body as well as weakness in her arms and legs. Difficulty with walking and holding or picking up items. These drugs seem to be dangerous. HELP!

  6. Suzanne
    Las Vegas, NV

    I am an active, physically fit, healthy 66 yr old except for borderline high cholesterol that I have been working to lower for almost 20 yrs. with diet, exercise and plant sterols. But with age, my cholesterol kept creeping higher. My PC suggested generic lipitor and I was terrified to take it. He said he has had good luck starting with a low dosage and because I am a small frame, thin female, he started me with 1 pill a week. 3 mos later I had my first blood test and had not yet experienced side effects. We reviewed my blood tests, cholesterol was down, but was not below 200 so he suggested 2 pills a week. OK, I thought maybe this will work. WRONG. Within 2 days of taking the 2nd pill I started experiencing horrific leg cramps that left my legs sore after cramp was gone, and then extreme exhaustion, I started checking the side effects and was horrified that I had started this drug. I purposely did not check before taking – did not want to be negatively influenced – hoping this might be ok for me. I immediately bought COQ10 and worked up to 200 mg a day and the leg cramps slowly disappeared. Has taken longer to get my energy level back. I still kept up my normal exercise routine but found it difficult to make it to work each day. 10 days later I am feeling close to normal but have not taken any medication. I know I should consult my physician, but don’t want to start on a downward spiral of trying other medications with the same effects. And, there is not a physician anywhere that can tell you how you will react to a drug. Trying to come up with a plan of action, just not sure what it will be!

  7. Mahesh

    I have been prescribed Atorvastatin 10mg & Rampril Capsules 5mg with Aspirin Gastro-resistant Tablets IP 75mg (POLYTORVA-5 Kit) by my family Doctor eight years ago and I have been using the same. Whenever I went for Master Health check-up, physicians advised me to continue the medicines. Just because I have some family history in heart attacks, they were advising me to continue the drugs. But with life change habits we can get rid off these medicines. I have experienced muscle pains with short time memory loss. I found even the skin got effected. Seriously I want to stop these life saving drugs immediately. I personally feel that I am going to embrace more dangerous side effects in future (Old age) . Now I am 61 years old male. Can anybody suggest alternate ?

  8. Kath

    Have tried various statins over the years, gave them up as a bad job for a while after muscle pains & numbness in lower legs & feet.
    New GP so thought I’d give them another go as things may have changed over the years. Within a week of going on Atrovastatin have developed palpitations . No more statins for me.

  9. Heide
    Delray Beach, FL

    My new doctor sees no reason for me to be on cholesterol lowering drugs, since I had terrible reactions to “the drugs” and since I have no heart related problems. Low B.P, no sugar, only the high cholesterol which I relate that to 20 years ago when I stopped eating eggs, which I had enjoyed every day. Remember the eggs scare?? Now eggs are good for you!!

  10. Heide
    DDelray Beach, FL

    I tried ALL the statins, only to have terrible muscle pain and balance. The doctor insisted I needed to be on “something” to bring down my 300 cholesterol count and put me on, as he said, “something different, not a statin”. OK, TRICOR!! Brought down the cholesterol number very quickly and suddenly my toes were numb. That was 2 years ago, and I have, as he said, “permanent neuropathy”. I don’t use THAT doctor anymore, besides he now became a “concerige doctor”. HEIDE

  11. JOHN
    montgomery co. pa.

    Its sad to think doctors would keep a person on medications that are not necessary just to keep them coming back, for example atorvastatin ( Lipitor ) a cholesterol lowering drug, when used requires periodic blood work to check cholesterol levels and liver functions. Its all about money, between the medical field and drug manufactures, which work together has turned wellness, which should be the priority, to big business, which is a problem. What ever happened to trusting a doctor and the oath they take, most patients know little about the conditions their being treated for. The more the patient knows about the treatment their receiving, the better they will feel about the doctor’s choice. After all its all about you.

  12. Connie

    I have been taking atorvaststin now for about 10 years, and have complained to my doctor about feeling tired all the time and muscle aches and sometimes I have foggy memory. Why would my doctor not tell me that Lipitor could cause these side affects ? Should I just stop taking them? I take 20mg every day. I also have problems with bouts of constipation and stomach problems. I feel the FDA should let people know what kind of poisons they are putting into their bodies. Do the doctors want us to depend on them forever? I am very upset about all this.

  13. annd

    I was on 40 mg for two months and feel awful. Had blood work done and had elevated liver enzymes as well as creatine issues. Going off this drug immediately. Anyone else with these problems?

  14. Dava

    I have been taking Atorvastatin a little over six months. I first noticed marked memory retrieval about 3 months ago… chalked it up to aging. I have had pain and weakness in my left shoulder for a slightly longer time, maybe 4 months, and now I have pain and weakness in my right shoulder. Both of these without known injury. This week I began putting these together, and wondered if the statin might be the cause. I take 200mg of CoQ10 with the statin, as my doctor prescribed, in order to avoid muscle pain and weakness. Didn’t know to link memory issues and concentration times to it until I looked up shoulder pain with statins. Now I know the cause of my problem and will talk with my doctor about finding another way to lower cholesterol.

  15. Joe

    I’m 55 started to take atorvastatin (Lipitor) 10mg and after a week I was feeling like an old man, memory loss, pain in lower legs, palpitations and raises heart beat, burning in urine, pain in pancreas area and most of all confused.
    My cardiologist told me to reduce it to .5 mg every other day I did that but not any better so I stopped taking it and after a week all symptoms went away, I then started taking it again after about a month and all symptoms came all back. For me is the Lipitor doesn’t work.

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