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. mikey5
    st louis, mo usa
    Reply

    I am 71 and was prescribed 20 mg of atorvastatin, my only medication. I took it for two evenings. The second morning I woke up with stomach ache, head ache, fatigue, nausea and a runny nose. Most symptoms lasted all day. Since my LDL is only slightly above the normal range and my total is at the top of the normal range I will try to control with diet and exercise.

  2. Diann G.
    Michigan
    Reply

    I just started on Atorvastatin a week ago. Last night I started getting stomach cramps so severe I was doubling over, this morning continuing cramps and also lower body muscle aches. Just feel awful. Call into the doctor, waiting for a response. I start a new part time job tomorrow but there is no way I will be at my best feeling like this. Is there anything safe to take that can relieve this achy feeling ?

  3. sarges
    Reply

    I too have been experiencing recurrent bouts of fatigue, especially in the mornings, whether or not I’ve gotten a decent night’s sleep or eaten breakfast. It’s dispiriting not to have energy for the many chores needing done or even to focus on reading. Having been on Atorvastatin since this spring (4 to 5 months now) I haven’t been tested to see the results, but like many on this site, I’m weighing whether or not to stop taking it for a while to see what happens. I should see if the statin has lowered my total cholesterol before beginning. I suppose that’s my next step.

  4. Alex G
    Reply

    I suffered a stroke and 3 subsequent Seizures at 23 years old whilst living in Vietnam. I then spent a week in hospital mostly unable to walk or speak, with complete paralysis of my right side initially, then that faded eventually, but is still lingering.
    My Doctor’s in Vietnam put me on a variety of drugs, including Phenytoin, blood thinners and Lipitor. I didn’t really notice any problems at first, or rather I assumed the problems were simply result of the stroke.
    But it’s 5 months on now, and I haven’t recieved any follow up on the medicine. The Phenytoin has been gradually reduced to 50mg a day, from 300mg a day. But the Lipitor.. I don’t know? I’m experiencing memory loss, panic attacks, weird flashes of ‘why am I here, this is insane’, muscle fatigue across my entire body, extremely severe as I am a Powerlifter in training, not a good combo! I can barely muster the energy to get up in the morning, I find if I am motionless, the first though it my brain is always ‘It’s going to be VERY difficult to start moving’, almost constantly have a headache, no appetite, unable to sleep at night as a result of imsomnia and hyperactive brain, despite being physically exhausted and tired always during the following day. Perhaps the worst is the interpretation of regular contact with skin on my right side as being unbelievably painful, wind blowing, water hitting skin, somebody touching me.. all results in a burning feeling.
    And Lipitor does what beneficially for me? I’m not sure. Lowers my LDL Cholesterol? I was completely unaware prior to this that I had anything resembling high cholesterol. As far as I and my UK Doctor can tell, the stroke was a result of thick blood from dehydration and very small and weak blood vessels in the left hemisphere of my brain as a result of birth defect, a blood vessel then rupturing and haemorrhaging into my brain. What does that have to do with Cholesterol?
    So I’m going to stop the Lipitor for one month and see what happens. I will take regular blood tests to see if anything seems amiss, but otherwise, I can’t deal with the risk to benefit ratio.

  5. Ann
    Reply

    My dad, age 88, was changed from Vytorin which he had taken for years to Atorvastatin in Feb. 2014, after his insurance company sent a letter asking that his cardiologist consider something other than Vytorin. Several months later after starting the Atorvastatin and doing some yard work Dad began complaining of terrible soreness, especially in his shoulder. Instead of getting better as muscle soreness from working should, the pain increased and spread to his hips. His primary care physician thought the cause might be the Atorvastatin but blood work did not indicate that was the case. The primary care doctor indicated the pain is just from muscle use combined with Dad’s age and suggested pain pills such as Celebrex. My dad has gone back to the Vytorin after talking with the cardiologist but the pain continues. In the past, Dad took the Celebrex only occasionally for arthritis/gout flair ups. After just a few days of the Celebrex, his pain would be gone. He has taken Celebrex daily for two weeks or so now but the pain in his shoulders and hips remains, although sometimes less than at others. My dad has always done yard work and would experience some soreness at times and said what he feels now is not from working. The Atorvastatin is the only new thing to which we can attribute the pain he feels now. He took Atorvastatin several months before the pain started. We hope it will eventually go away since he now longer takes it.

  6. shayan
    Reply

    no. It doesn’t work. I had used it for 1 month then I have got backache.

  7. Wek
    Reply

    I started taking 10MG of Lipitor in middle of May along with several other medications my doctor prescribed. She is a reservist doctor and would deploy for overseas duty within three weeks. So I began the regimen of meds each morning and evening, taking the Lipitor at bedtime as directed.
    I had total knee replacement (TKR) at the end of May and began taking pain meds in order to make it through the day and night. After getting back to “normal” pain wise, i.e. not having to take pain meds, especially for sleeping, I began to notice I could not get to sleep. I would toss and turn until 2-3 in the morning and still not sleep well at all. This has been going on now since beginning of July.
    After reading all the posts from this website and a couple others, I am going to ease off the Lipitor by cutting the pills in half. I’ll take the Lipitor that way for a week or so to determine if there are any complications. If none, then I plan on stopping altogether.
    I would rather live with the risks of high cholesterol and enjoy my days, however many I have left @ 64, than to have low cholesterol and unable to sleep, pain in quadriceps, knees, calves, fast pulse rate, etc. I just don’t get it.
    When my doctor returns from Afghanistan I’ll make sure she’s aware of my decision and for now I’ll let her fellow doctors, who are covering for her, know my decision as well so they can run all their tests to cover their you know what!
    Thanks to all for the information. Praying each of you can get your lives back to at least where they were before statins!!!

  8. start today
    Reply

    I took my first Lipitor today first time in my life, first my left ear had pain its gone now but I still can feel it …second I feel high like I am loaded. I will never take this again, took one 20 mg pill 2 hours ago…. my dr. told me being that I am a black male, 61 years old, (have asthma real bad), my hdl and hld is verrry good. My dr. says she’s never seen these good readings in a long time ref, to good and bad cholesterol…the reason that she wants to put me on this atorvastatin is because I have a 10% possibility of having a heart attack with in 10 years and this will lower that risk to 1.0 to 0.1 percent. Dr. says the risk outweighs the problem …..any feed back from you will be great tks

  9. start today
    Reply

    I have great cholesterol good and the bad dr. said it’s too good, but being black and 60 years old and with asthma and a black male, I have a 10% risk of having a heart attack with/in 10 years and this drug atorvastatin will be great to lower the percentage risk factor to 1 or .01 percent. I took my first pill today this am……….. all this stuff about statins is scaring me, well looks like I will have to talk to my doctor again …… um I must report after 5 min of taking this….20 mg pill my left ear had hurting pain and it went away…. this never happened in my life I am not taking this stuff, can’t wait until tomorrow when this med will be out of my body.

  10. Wayne B.
    Reply

    With all the differences of Opinion by experts over Statins, people are becoming confused. One week the experts tell us they are safe, the next week they are not safe. Who do we believe?
    All I can say is that I stopped taking Statins after being advised by the experts that they were not good for you. We were then told that the final verdict is that Statins are safe. I have been back on them for just over a week and now find that I am having serious arthritic problems in the joints of my thumbs and fingers of both hands.
    I am convinced that these problems are caused by the Statins and intend to visit my Doctor to discuss the issue. I remember having the same problem before after taking Simvastatin for a long time. I also had memory loss. Things improved when I stopped Simvastatin.
    On a visit to my Doctor I explained that I had stopped the Statin and they told me that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages. They put me on Atorvastatin and my Arthritis returned, after stopping it for one more medical dispute I started again one week ago, now my thumb joints lock very painfully so that I cannot bend them without assistance or pain. I intend to finally stop taking Statins and rely on common sense when eating. Being mainly a vegetarian, not eating Red Meat, not using dairy products and not using processed foods must be the way forward. Stopping Statins must be the bonus I hope for.

  11. FLGdNbr
    Reply

    Boy, oh, boy….has this site ever been an eye-opener for me. I swear I was going crazy – having terrible cramping – at night especially, but really any time. Have been taking Lipitor for a couple years now because of my high end cholesterol #’s. I am also a cancer survivor, so many things “wrong” with me I thought were from the Stage 3 melanoma of the axillary lymph glands I had removed. Now I KNOW it’s that lousy Lipitor. I have had excruciating cramps, in my legs, arms, and even in my torso if I turn the wrong way. I eat Tums & gas tablets like crazy because my stomach is so sensitive now & gas is ever present in excess. My back gets so sore I can’t even ride in a car for long rides any more – the cancer hospital clinic is over an hour from home & it kills me to make that trip. By the time I get home, I’m thoroughly tired & sore.
    I also have had mental “fogginess” & have NEVER had that problem before – I’m the one everyone asks what this or that is because I remember everything. I’m taking myself off the Lipitor on a daily basis & just taking it every other day for a week, then every 2 days for a week, until I’m finally off it altogether. Next cancer center appointment in Dec. I’ll see if there’s any increase in my cholesterol #’s – should prove interesting. Have also noticed no UTI’s but do have “funny” smelling urine – I drink lots of liquids during the day, so it’s not because of that. Plus my glucose is always on the “high” side of normal – like 108 or 109. Will be interested in seeing if that changes next blood test as well. I am sick & tired of these meds CAUSING more problems than CURING them & wish they would test things properly before letting them go on the market.

  12. Eileen D. in Irvine
    Reply

    OMG!!! Just read your post and had to share that I too got tendonitis in both arms, steroid injections and the pain is back in both arms again. Would never suspect Lipitor!!! Stopped my Lipitor last night. I’ll be watching to see if these symptoms go away, as well as many others described by other commentors.

  13. Jmh
    Reply

    Switched a few months ago from zocor to Lipitor. Since, have regular headaches, confusion, neck pain, but I am also very physically active for my age and am in the army. The confusion part is scary because of my work. I am stopping taking it today and want to see if the headaches go away. They are very frequent. I also experience sleep problems and difficulty sleeping.

  14. John t r
    Reply

    I took simvastatin and gave up because of severe cramps. I have had a replacement aortic valve. Angiogram says coronary artery ok but slight deterioration not needing surgery.
    I am taking dabigatran. Cholesterol level was 5.1 at last test
    Doc said atorvistatin would be good with few side effects. I enjoy cycling and wish to avoid any more drugs I know that statins weaken the muscles. My inclination is to resist the lipitor prescribed.
    Am I wise to do this?

  15. fbl
    Reply

    anonymous, I should think the choice is clear. Lose the statins and remove all unnatural oils from your diet so that your cholesterol can lower naturally. My hubby’s came down over 100 points by eliminating the grocery store oils and going back to real butter, organic coconut and palm oils. Do NOT eat any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. This means cooking at home as almost all prepared foods are full of the stuff.
    You can use nut oils or plain sesame (not toasted) to make your mayonnaise.
    This system works!

  16. Anonymous
    Reply

    I’m 69 born with minor cerebral palsy in hips, legs and feet which is now becoming major. I had a double heart bypass 16 years ago and was prescribed a statin due to raised cholesterol (around 7).
    The benefits of the statin over preventing stroke/heart attack are ALWAYS used as the case for me to take the drug and as my walking is deteriorating monthly I have to make the decision of POSSIBLY another heart problem if I stop taking the drug over the problems of fatigue,sleep and memory loss whilst on the drug and continuation of walking problems which doctors state are NOT connected to the statin……
    HELP, what should I do?
    I have been on and off the drug for the past 15 years sometimes as much as a year off and because my cholesterol level returns to 7 from 4.2 whist on the drug I get scared and resume taking it.
    So, to summarise;
    Cerebral palsy/ Heart Bypass/highlight cholesterol……..not taking the drug or
    “. “. “. “. Low. “. …….. Taking the drug, BUT all the side effects running the risk of ending up not walking
    A difficult choice, a HEART or NOT WALKING!!
    Reduced energy and memory loss COULD just be the aging process, but without the means of checking my arteries for re- clogging I am left with this dilemma as ‘to take or not to take’!
    In my case it is not clear whether the benefits EVEN with heart disease outweigh my cerebral palsy, memory loss, muscle fatigue, sleep loss, liver, diabetes, low thyroid…….I guess no one can answer this and I must continue ‘to gamble’ my life away!

  17. DDH
    Reply

    I have had M.E./CFS for the past ten years but it has worsened over the past three years or so. Inactivity and poor eating as a result of the CFS raised my weight way beyond a healthy weight, and very quickly. I also have some autoimmune issues (hashimotos)and because of this very little thyroid left. The doctor has me on 100 mcg thyroxine, amlodipine and atorvastatin, as well as another medication for reflux.
    I noticed the symptoms worsening badly lately, having taken the statin for about two years now. My hips are in agony when I try to walk to strengthen legs, which have gotten weaker, weight has increased despite the strict low fat, healthy diet i put myself on. My memory has worsened to an embarrassing level. I hate complaining and am the type to do my own research to try and help myself, so finding this site and seeing that others are having similar problems gives hope and courage to keep pushing to find solutions. I feel as if I’ve lost years of my life battling some of these things but I sincerely do remain optimistic that there will be an answer and discover ways to rise above these things. I’ve made up my mind to stop the statin and see what happens.

  18. EF
    Reply

    Simvastatin for a year resulted in painful leg cramps and severe jaw pain (could not even bite into an apple). Saw numerous doctors and specialists, with many saying it was a sinus infection. Took prednisone which was a disaster and had to stop because of serious jaw muscle spasms. GP felt it was the statin so stopped and all symptoms vanished.
    Now on Lipitor for one month and extreme tiredness and back aches have popped up quickly. Also brain fogginess which is difficult when you are working.
    Age 65, healthy with higher LDL than what doctor feels I should be at. But, will stop Lipitor and focus on healthy diet instead. Great website and reassurance from others that Lipitor is not for everyone.

  19. A G
    Reply

    Just started avorstatin about a week ago, after my physical showed another high cholesterol level. I was already having backaches and hip aches from possible lack of stretching (I’m only 45, but play lots of tennis.). Doc rec Lipitor, but said common side effect is new muscle aches DO show up. Well omg, I can barely walk my hips hurt so much. She prescribed 5% lidocaine patches for my precondition, but even those plus 800 mg ibuprofen didn’t seem to make it pain free. Today is the worst. However, I have been cleaning house and on my feet a lot, but still!

  20. Kim
    Reply

    My question…. why would my Dr put me on Lipitor when I am diabetic? It could raise my blood sugar? I started taking it within 3 days. My sugars were thru the roof, I was throwing up, had terrible headache for 3 days, stomach cramps gas and heartburn. 4 th day I didn’t take it, by the end of the day I was fine???

  21. Terry
    Reply

    I was on Lipitor 80 mg for one month and started to get muscle cramps and pain. I stopped taking it right away. I have been off of it for seven weeks now and no apparent relief. How long would you think it may take to get better? I was also put on effient 10mg after my stent. Could this be part of the problem? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

  22. JH
    Reply

    I’ve never suffered from high cholestorol, but here in the UK you are more-or-less automatically prescribed statins when you hit 40. So I’ve been on Simvastatin for years, then 2 years ago it was changed over to Atrovastatin. I wish I’d tied in my symptoms a lot earlier. Just this weekend, my friend was talking about side-effects, and it was only then I realised what it could be.
    Joint pains, especially elbows, wrist and thumb, have been making my life a misery…luckily it has not affected my musical abilities as yet ! My feet and ankles have constantly hurt, been taking aspirin, paracetomol and anti-inflammatories as if they were candies!
    That’s me off the Atrovastatin as of today, see how it goes.

  23. GAYLE R.
    Reply

    I am on 10 mgs of Advastitan and I am having awful aches in my right arm and I cannot sleep and get really bad wind. The doctor says what I eat is really good but the problem is in my genetics. What can I do as my cholesterol was really high?

  24. Ibis C.
    Reply

    my doctor put me on atorvastatin 40mg for myocardial vascular disease and high blood pressure. My cholesterol levels are perfect but he felt I should stay on the meds. Since I started taking it in January I have had cramps in my calf and feet and my eye would twitch constantly. I noticed I am also forgetting conversations that I had days ago. I work out 4 days a week and stopped taking it after asking my doctor repeatedly why I really need it if my levels are perfect? Also this statin breaks down muscle which defeats the purpose of weight training. I continue to take the blood pressure and cardiac meds but refuse to take the atorvastatin.

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