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. wayne roberts

    I had very high cholesterol, 280. Prescribed Atorvastatin 20 mg, Began to have erratic blood pressure within a week of taking it going as high as 190 over 100, sending me rushing to the ER. Doctor put me on BP meds and upped my Atorvastatin to 40MG. Within a week the erratic BP continued and I developed a cough with Phlegm most noticeable at night before sleep and when I awoke. I then developed acute dizziness, severe soreness in chest and lungs, significant pain in my surgically repaired tendon in my hand, numbness that ran up my arm to my head on one side of my body. My labs came back with my total cholesterol reduced to 125. But I became prediabetic, liver function abnormal, and creative protein rising from 1 to 6. I stopped taking it and most issues completely resolved within 48 hours. May need to take a shot once a month for Cholesterol. No other treatment has limited side effects besides the shot. but expensive 20K a year.

  2. Ron

    I recently saw my cardiologist on Monday. I mentioned that I had been having severe reactions concerning a massive build-up of gas, all starting when I ate an orange, so severe that I thought my chest was going to explode. I suggested she take me off Atorvastatin for a while to see if that was the problem. She freaked out when I suggested that. Instead she asked if I had heartburn. I said I did and ate Tums like candy. Then she prescribed me another drug to supposedly counteract the gas and heartburn, heartburn which she attributed to my diet.

    I went to get my prescription filled, and since I was getting a new med, the pharmacist wanted to instruct me as to how to use it. Before he did that, he reviewed my other meds, and mentioned not to eat oranges or lemons with Atorvastatin. So that it seemed was the problem with the severe gas build-up.

    My prescription had run out 4 days earlier and I had noticed some vast improvements in gas and heartburn, which I mentioned to my doctor. this also was dismissed out of hand. I did take an Atorvastatin pill that evening. The next day, Tuesday, I had gas build up problems and in the evening I ate a nectarine, and the severe reaction was almost immediate.

    I ceased taking Atorvastatin. Today is Saturday. Since Wednesday I have had no gas build up of any sort, I have had no heartburn, my constipation is improving and the low grade headaches I was experiencing have vanished.

    This seems to be a perfect example of the cure being worse than the disease.

  3. JL

    Statins may be life saving in rare instances, however, the side effects particularly long-term are devastating from head to toe. I believe that my husbands’ cardiac situation has worsened, actually is now life-threatening as a result of their long-term use. I am a former communications director of a major bio-pharmaceutical firm and hate to tell you, but most doctors are in bed with the drug makers. It is will be a couple of weeks until we see the cardiologist – one of them (he has a team, literally) and I am raising holy hell with the whole statin use abuse. His cholesterol has not even been checked for quite some time. His HDL and LDL levels were not even that bad. Be careful and remember, you are your only advocate! Don’t ever let a doctor intimidate you!

  4. Kathi H

    I was prescribed Atorvastatin to lower my total cholesterol level which was 263. after 2 months, of taking 10mg (a low dose) every other day, the level went down to 196, but I developed severe twitching and dryness for the eyes. My doctor then lowered the dosage to 10mg every 2 days, but the side effects did not go away. I was taken off the drug, and after about 2 months, both side effects slowly disappeared. I am really afraid to go back to statins.

  5. Krystal

    I am a 46 year old female who was prescribed Atorvastation (Lipitor) about a year ago. I started having side effects right away, memory, concentration, muscle soreness and cramps, etc. My dr lowered my dose to 10mg every other day. Once these side effects seemed to taper a bit, I was able to start taking the full 20mg nightly but sometimes skipped because I felt so bad. Several months ago I started having pain in my upper right abdomen.

    I went to my dr who said if it persisted to come back. I went back again and nothing was done. I ended up in the ER twice being told that I had cysts on my right ovary that may be putting pressure on my organs.

    Finally, the night before last, I started looking at the side effects from atorvastatin (the only med I am on) and see that the pain in the upper right abdomen could be a dangerous side effect. I also had some other symptoms that I didn’t associate with the med, swollen abdomen, very dark urine, decrease urination. I stopped taking immediately and after just two days feel better mentally, like a brain fog has lifted. I am still having some pain in my abdomen but even that is much better.

  6. Christy
    Willows, California

    I had almost every side effect of this poison that one can have and I was wondering why I was feeling worse all the time but understand it now. I lately couldn’t walk across the room and remember why, could not remember almost anything for even a few minutes, aches /pain, stiff joints, muscle pain/ weakness, what feels like a urinary infection, fogginess/confusion, lack of patience/irritable, high blood pressure, insomnia, trouble when I stand, sit, walk for any length of time, diabetes, underactive thyroid and a lot more problems. I accidentally forgot to take Lipitor one night and felt really good the next morning, thinking it was an anomaly I resumed the next day & all symptoms came back.

    On it for 3 yrs and told Dr. 2 yrs ago how I was feeling-he blew it off as though I was neurotic. I also had to start taking Norco this year for increased pain which caused severe constipation. The psychological damage from this drug is quite severe. I even lost confidence in my ability to do anything or make decisions. This is completely out of character for me as I am a busy, feisty, cheerful 64 yr. old lady. I had to increase my depression drug as well. Last week I started taking a pill one day-then not the next for a few days and stopped the Norco altogether. My body & mind literally took a sigh of relief when I stopped Lipitor, my pain level has dropped to about 1/4 now. I can walk across the room without wincing, it appears I am getting my memory back, all my senses are sharper again, my depression less, other symptoms are receding or just stopped.

    I don’t feel cranky or paranoid as I did before. There are some things worse than death-I know because I have been living in a private hell for quite a while. I am looking for a new dr. who is hopefully a human being and not a greedy robot like so many. Wish me luck-I’ll need it.

  7. Lorraine

    After atorvastatin being upped to 80 mg due to peripheral arterial disease, I’ve had 2 water infections anyone else had this?

  8. Keith

    I have been on ATORVASTATIN 40 mg for about 5 years off and on. I say off and on because I have taken my self off different medications from time to time when I have problems like disorientation, bleeding, or cramping.

    In this 5 year time ,I have had a severe torn rotator cup and muscle repair and was Hospitalized for 8 days for a bad infection that nearly cost me my foot. I have sarcoidosis and was placed on ATORVASTATIN after having a tmi my vision went grey for about 1/2 hour .

    I have complained about calf mussel cramps in the night mostly. My mind function suffers small bouts of confusion from time to time . I feel much better when I am off the medication and have gone months at a time without it. Of course I worry about the silent killer of a stroke. Last year before my annual blood test I stopped taking it about a month prior to the test . The doctor (who had no knowledge of this ) did not have any real concern of the numbers but did say that they were a little high .

    I have ask about diet and have been told that with the medication I should not have to alter my diet . I went off the medication for about a month , While eating sweets one day I felt a little dizzy . this scared me into taking them again . with in 3 days my lower back started to feel like I was going to throw my back out (which happens every so often).

    not thinking that the ATORVASIATIN had anything to do with it , I kept taking it as prescribed , went to doctor and was prescribed the usual hydrocodone and Valium 20 pills each. then while taking all three the leg cramps started again . so I start the check list Drinking enough water ? 1/2 gallon to gallon a day , good rest . stretching , no new activity to cause mussel stress .

    I used to take 800 mg ibuprofen a day when I was dealing with my own health. now that I am under doctor care I have stopped that I have stopped smoking and drink very little if at all. I am going to stop taking this medication. I am quite sure that it is the cause of my calf mussel and is contributing to my back problems. And yes I have discussed with my nurse practitioner (doctor) and she said she didn’t think that it was the ATORVASIATIN and then jokingly said it’s better then a stroke.

    • Terry Graedon

      You may be able to tolerate a different statin better. Ask your nurse practitioner if you could try something else. A switch can be helpful for some people.

  9. James

    I am male, 53 years old, no heart conditions, non smoker, 6′ 0″ 220 lbs, no history of heart trouble or high blood pressure but have HIGH colesterol. I have been on Atorvastatin 20mg for 16 month.

    2 months ago I started having problems with my exercises. I do a lot of cardio, cross-training and weights, not for mass building but just for general health. Most of my problems are muscle-related: overall body cramping and muscle aching. I feel as though I have torn a few muscles in my shoulder and right arm when I have not increased my level of workout.

    I have been off of these meds for 4 weeks now, and recently have been feeling sick, weak, and have deeper body aches, almost flu-like symptoms but no fever. I do drink alcohol moderately, but for two weeks now have not drunk any. Today I feel a little better.

    For the last 3-4 months I have struggled to have a “good” workout. I have really had to push myself mentally to get though it. I am now starting to understand why (side effects of the statin). I am hoping there is no permanent damage to my muscles.

  10. Paul
    Massachusetts, USA

    I have been told that high cholesterol can be a cause of my ED, but the same medical practitioner neglected to tell me that the statin med I take is also a cause of ED. I’m an angry man.

    • Keith

      I also would like to say I am told that I have an enlarged prostate . This has been aggravated by medications and has made urination and even sex difficult at times . A different doctor put me on TAMSULOSIN HCL 0.4 MG . WHAT A DIFFERENCE . Both problems vanished in 2 days . The problem is when I stop the TAMSULOSIN the urine problem returns with in 2 days

    • Keith

      I also would like to say I am told that I have an enlarged prostate . This has been aggravated by medications and has made urination and even sex difficult at times . A different doctor put me on TAMSULOSIN HCL 0.4 MG . WHAT A DIFFERENCE . Both problems vanished in 2 days . The problem is when I stop the TAMSULOSIN the urine problem returns with in 2 days

  11. Therese
    Cornwall Ont Canada

    I have been on lipitor for at least 10 yrs, now I am noticing, leg cramps and fatigue, dr took me off lipitor for a month, it’s been 4 months now, I am trying to lower my cholesterol by diet and exercise, but cannot walk far anymore or exercise because of the pain, in my legs and back, does anybody have this problem, and a solution?

  12. Julie

    I have had shoulder & elbow pain for several years and a couple knuckles in my hands were inflamed & getter bigger. I was concerned that my outdoor gardening was coming to an end. Two weeks ago I stopped taking Atorvastatin. By the 4th day, my knuckles were not inflamed. Now they are a little swollen, but they look as good as I could have hoped. My shoulders & elbows are so much better. NO pain at all in elbows. One shoulder is a little touchy, SO much better than I could hope for. Will go for cholesterol check soon. jw

  13. Pam C.

    I’ve been on statins for last 3 yrs after a stent & a double bypass. Since I have fibro, I’m accustomed to having muscle aches, fatigue, memory loss & fibro fog. I’ve assumed that is what I am dealing with though it feels increased. The worst symptom is that I feel short tempered, easily angered, & less patient in general. These symptoms interfere with the social service work I do! This pattern started when I started taking statins.

  14. Christy

    I’m 42, slightly overweight and have a cholesterol of 220. My dad died from a massive heart attack and my mom had a mild one. Both in their late 50s. My dads brothers, 4 of them, died of massive heart attacks in their early 60s as well. So the doctor put me on this drug (the one that starts with a p), and within one day, I noticed massive muscle pain.

    I have Fibro and am already in pain each day from it, but this was worse. It was crippling me, as the week went on, it got even worse, to the point where I couldn’t even work. I didn’t want to do anything. I own my own business and have grown it to a mulitmillion dollar business in just over a year. But it requires me to work a lot, and it’s not something I can pay someone else to do.

    So finally I called my doctor and said.. I can NOT be on this. Actually left a message with his nurse because he couldn’t take my call. The nurse called me back and told me that they would find something else and I told him I wanted to talk to them about different options. Something that won’t cause pain. Then I didn’t hear back but got a phone call from the pharmacy the next day, that I had a new perscriotion. I went and picked it up and low and behold it’s still a statin. It’s this one ( atorvastatin), and I’m like??? It’s the same dang thing? Side effects are the same?

    I’m so annoyed my doctor couldn’t even spend 5 mins or even the nurse, talking to me about different options. I had just spent $300 on a visit with them for them to tell me I have it. I’m beyond annoyed right now and want to stop it all together. I would rather go hungry everyday than be in this much pain. I can’t been function. I have 5 kids at home, I run a business, my husband works for me, I can live life like this.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

  21. 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 ?

  22. 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.

  23. 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!!

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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?

  28. 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.

  29. 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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