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. Victoria
    Denver, Co

    I have taken atorvastatin for three or four years without much change in my cholesterol values. Two weeks ago I started to have severe muscle spasms in my legs. Last night they woke me 7 times. While researching all of my medications I ran across this article. I have been having muscle spasms in my neck for three months along with headaches. My arthritis has flared up over the last six months. I have some memory changes recently along with nerve pain in my foot, digestive issues, and insomnia (not related to my muscle spasms). I will be stopping my atorvastatin today and watch these symptoms for change. In the last 6 weeks I have also had 8 squamous cell carcinomas appear. I will be researching that possibility also.

  2. BH
    Los angeles

    Finally convinced that my ongoing health issues are related to Lipitor.
    In my experience GP’s keep you on drugs due to lack of knowledge or some sinister motive.
    Patients must take control of their health issues, shop around till you find a doc you are comfortable with, too many of them see u as a money machine needed to pay off their loans for fancy toys and vacations.

  3. Terri
    United States

    I have been on Atorvastatin for around 6 months. I am only 53 and have absolutely no energy, no goals, no drive and all I want to do is sleep. I can sleep for 18 hours and still not want to get out of bed. I am on an antidepressant for over 10 years and I know it works. I am mentally happy and want to do things… my body just wants to sleep. I have noticed a slight increase of memory loss on just simple things… peoples names and the like. I do have a doctor’s appointment this Saturday and hope my levels are down low enough that I can stop taking this drug. I hate this feeling. It’s such a useless feeling. Work and sleep is the story of my life. Wish me luck on Saturday!

  4. Carla
    United States

    Had been on lipitor from April 2015 until May 11 2015. At which point my body felt it had been used as a punching bag. Couldn’t get comfortable and my stomach felt like it was being wrung out like a wash rag. Then my urine turned tea colored. Went to the doctor the next day. Doctor confirmed I had a urinary infection and said I was one of the people that couldn’t take a statin. She said she could prescribe a different medicine. I just want to get this lipitor out of my system with not lasting effects. I will try to use a better diet and more exercise before I try anything else. This is a horrible medicine with hostel side effects that should really be reevaluated before making people go thru this type of treatment. There has to be other ways to treat high triglycerides that don’t cause people this kind of discomfort. If you are taking this medicine with no effects, good for you. But for those who are having unusual medical problems I suggest a different route for your health issue. At least my doctor took me off this medicine.

  5. Meredith M.
    United States

    Yes, these episodes started approx 2 months ago after I started taking 3 different meds: all started 3 months ago… I went in with depression, fatigue, queasiness, dizziness, earache, frequent and long lasting headaches behind right eye, face flushing, excessive crying and general malaise.. I was guessing Menopause, accompanied by a toothache maybe. as I am 51 and my rhythms were wonky.

    I figured I would leave with some Estrogen Tabs maybe an antibiotic and call it a day.

    Doc didn’t think it was Menopause. I was put on Sertraline (Zoloft) 50mg… soon after the Zoloft they saw in my blood test results, I had perfectly normal blood work back except a very high cholesterol count (400) so, at my first follow-up, they put me on Atorvastatin (Lipitor) 80mg also during this visit I was complaining that the Zoloft seemed to make the queasiness worse and as before… Pepto and other Antacids didn’t make a dent, but Travel Sickness pills seemed to take the edge off… and asked if my initial problem had to do with something wrong in my inner ear… Doc said probably not after peering into them… so Doc gave me a script for Omeprazole (Prilosec) 40mg for the dizziness and queasiness too.

    Since beginning all these, in the last 3 months… I have had the sudden onset of these “heavy arms” and positively frightening fatigue (upper body only), migraine, light flashes, fever-like sweats during minimal effort, chest, eye and neck pain and the queasiness is still hanging around… seems the Prilosec isn’t even helping anymore. And I think food has started to taste metallic (at times) and seems to have lost most of it’s flavor… or I don’t take pleasure in eating anymore… food is always “blah!”, when it used to be “yeah!”

    Due to the mention of dizziness and chest pains, had a stress test that went without a hitch. ECHO was showing a perfectly healthy heart. So now what… I have had insomnia since the age of 7, so I was sent to do a sleep study. Found I have moderate to severe Sleep Apnea… was recommended I get a CPAP right away… have yet to get one as the paperwork has found a snag. I was told by the sleep folks that I may need none of the meds and that the CPAP may make a new woman of me.

    During my wait for the machine, I told them about the “heavy arms” (Didn’t have this symptom prior, that I recall) and she asked if I had injured my neck… not to my knowledge. So, here we are. Perhaps it IS a side effect of the Lipitor… I didn’t have this problem before and wonder, now, why I went to the Doc’s, as I feel worse now than I did before.

    BTW the Zoloft made me stop crying so much, stop caring about much, made me a bit scatterbrained with loss of concentration and I feel more tired than before. I am not sure what symptoms are coming from where and caused by what anymore… It’s hard to pinpoint any of them because they all came on the scene around the same time. But maybe if you are experiencing this stuff and just started Lipitor maybe we have a link.

    I am hyper-sensitive to many things, break out in rashes easily and have many allergies… perhaps this is an allergic reaction to Lipitor. Lord knows, if anyone can be allergic to it, I’m your Huckleberry.

  6. Debra D.
    New York

    I had been on atorvastatin 20 mg for approximately 2 1/2 years when I began to experience stomach pain and chronic diarrhea. My family physician sent me for an initial round of tests, all of which came back negative. He then sent me to a G.I. specialist, and I the underwent a CT scan, MRI enterograpy, ultrasound, endoscopy and colonoscopy, all of which were negative. I was placed on a gluten-free diet, lactose-free diet, FODMAP diet. I continue to experience worsening diarrhea with a subsequent loss of almost 40 pounds. Finally, my girlfriend came across an article stating that a relatively rare side effect of atorvastatin was diarrhea. I mentioned this to my family physician and we decided to discontinue the atorvastatin for a few weeks while I awaited the results of yet more blood and stool tests. At this point I had been experiencing chronic diarrhea for almost one year. I am now almost 6 weeks post atorvastatin and my diarrhea is gone. Additionally I have not experienced any stomach pain and my glucose numbers are now normal. I also am experiencing greatly increased energy levels. I simply cannot believe how much better I feel. While on a atorvastatin, I also experienced intermittent hives which I attributed it to seasonal allergies, although I had never experienced hives before. I literally have not felt this well in a few years. I never suspected the atorvastatin because I had been on it for a while, but I am absolutely convinced that it caused my stomach pain, diarrhea, fatigue, hives, and general sense of malaise. I felt the need to comment on this in hopes it might help someone else. Apparently not all side effects from atorvastatin our immediate, and you should consider this if you are experiencing these kinds of problems.

  7. amanda

    This medicine is from the devil himself. I can’t stay awake, weak, tired, chills, achy all over, a million pins and needles in my feet. Not to forget the pounding racing heart and worst of all, my feet are on fire! I don’t wanna wear shoes or do anything if it has to do with standing or walking. I have never had anything like this. After reading about burning feet and Lipitor, I am done with it. I am taking my self off tomorrow. I have been on it a little over a month
    These symptoms started immediately. I never read up on any side effects, but from now on I absolutely will. This has been the worst experience ever! I can only pray I return to normal! Thank God I was smart enough to figure this out! This should be taken off the market immediately!

  8. Carol

    I’ve been on 5 mg Atorvastatin for 4 – 5 years — just half a pill. Not feeling too well lately, I just browsed the web and read what people are experiencing. An extremely dry mouth during the night brought on this search — and sure enough, it is one of the side effects. Also, a dull, continuous headache (I’m not attempting a direct connection. Just musing.) confusion, feeling “not here”, difficult to focus, feel tired reading unless its a gripping story, memory loss, extremely dry mouth in the night, unusual back pain, weakness, fatigue, no goals, motivation, passion, feel ‘stupid’, don’t want to engage socially for fear I’ll not “get” the conversation, or have nothing to contribute. WOW! I want to get off this stuff, but have just read side effects of Lipitor withdrawal, and they are scarey. I’m hoping my half-dose, eliminated slowly over a few weeks, will minimize the withdrawal symptoms. I’ll be talking with my Dr.

  9. Richard

    Since a blizzard in January (coninciding with the time I started taking atorvastatin) I have had extreme weakness in my arms. There were days I could not lift anything heavier than a coffee pot – and I have thought that it was from overdoing it with my snow blower – I did the entire block twice and another side street sidewalk – and I assumed that I had torn ligaments doing this.

    Then I woke up and said, “wait a minute, the pain also started around the time I started taking Atorvastatin.” And wondered if there was a possible corrilation to the drug. Then I read this article. It makes sense – the author is describing my physical symptoms, although I have not noticed any memory loss. I am going to stop taking the drug and see if the symptoms fall off…. I wasn’t crazy about starting the drug in the first place.

    Will report back in a few weeks and let folks know what happened. I am going to look at diet and exercise – and see if that is a better way to lower colestorol.

    These are my thoughts

    • Chris

      Started taking atorvastatin 80mg after a heart attack last October. By november my shoulders and neck were in agony. The cardiac nurse suggested I miss them out for two weeks to see if it was the effects from them. My pain went away after a few days. Went to see my GP and he said take them again and see how I get on. Now i cannot sleep on my sides. i cannot get a jacket on or off I am in constant pain and have limited movement in both upper arms as well. I have an appointment in a couple of weeks. I cant live like this indefinitely.

  10. Scott

  11. Ken

    I have been taking 40mg atorvastatin for 16 months. ED has become a real problem. I have heart problems, and cholesterol LDL was 108 and cardiologist wants to increase to 80mg. I feel sex life will be over. Thoughts?

    • David

      Get off the drug. Go the health food store and talk to a knowledgeable person about some of the natural supplements to help reduce cholesterol. Also, include soy, tofu, in your diet. It will raise HDL and lower LDL as well as the total. As you age, the drug affects you differently, and could cause you real problems. I speak from experience. Quit taking it.

  12. carmella

    My mom has always said that Lipitor gave her leg pains. She took herself off of both Crestor and Lipitor at different times… she recently, after a congestive heart failure episode, was put back on Atorvastatin. She was rushed to the hospital 2x with severe allergic reaction with hives covering her entire body and breathing difficulties! Hence…the ER nurse discarded the medication. No other drug has been prescribed as of yet. More dr. appointments. To follow. What is in this stuff? She is also allergic to shellfish.

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