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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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….

  6. 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.

  7. 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!!!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Rama

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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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