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. Bill

    I started Lipitor Sept 1, 2017 and had bad stomach cramp. On Sept. 2 got hoarse throat and felt foggy. On Sept 4 got leg and foot cramps, felt mentally challenged, started coughing, felt feverish but had normal temp. Did not take 4th dose. Still do not feel ok. Still foggy, stomach crampy, called Dr. to say stopping med. Sent complaint to FDA. How long will this last?

  2. Mike
    Glasgow, UK

    The real question is why are you on a statin, the side effects in my case are extremely unpleasant. age 72 I still do not know why I was put on a statin . I had a TIA 8 months ago. But what is the statin doing for me ? My wife is a dietician and my diet is excellent. My weight OK, I am also on a blood thinner which I can understand.

    I have stopped the atorvastatin — side effects gradually diminishing but still debillitating To say I am fed up, does not cover my feelings!

  3. Betty

    I was on atorvastatin for 8 years, at first it was 10 mg no problems, then they increased it to 40 mg. and was ok for a while. Then I started to be tired all the time, could fall asleep any time any where. Thought it was over work and age, then he cramping started. So bad that it would wake me up in the middle of the night.

    Nothing was done, was told it was the aspartame in my drink. So I stopped that, it did not get better. Slowly in legs and arms got weaker to the point I could not walk. My mind started to get fuzzy and I couldn’t remember words. My doctor took me off the atorvastatin so far no change but it’s only been a few days. No matter what if I clear up I will never go back on anything like that again.

    I live alone and can not have these side effects. Please there has to be something that can be done about these kinds of drugs. I’m only 66 and walk and feel like 103.

  4. Roxanne

    Started atorvastatin 40 mg November 14, 2016. November 29th I started having problems. First, diarrhea, then clay-colored stools, sweats/chills, fever, muscle pain, memory fog, and eventually my glucose levels elevated to pre diabetic (been hypoglycemic all my life). My doctor dismissed my concerns that it was this med. After 3 ultrasounds, hida scan, 2 CT scans, celiac, pancreatitis, gluten and other tests, i was told it was all in my mind.

    On my own I quit taking Atorvastatin, and 2 days later digestive problems stopped. 7 days later every other problem started clearing up. Waiting to have blood test to check glucose, but I am feeling 100% better off this med than on!! Best advice i can give – research yourself, and remember, no one knows your body better than you. Also, find a doctor who listens to you.

  5. Sandy

    I am a 68 year old female and have been on Atorvastatin 10mg for a number of years. I have suffered from muscle weakness, memory fog, leg numbness, restless leg syndrome, dizziness, plantar fasciitis, am extremely tired, sleep apnea, on BiPAP, GI issues from swallowing to diarrhea; all the classic symptoms of fibro and cfs. Finally, after complaining forever to various doctors and having every test imaginable, about 3 years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and cfs. I also had Grave’s disease. Was good to have a diagnosis even though it is sort of a non-diagnosis.

    However, during the past 6 months things have been progressively going down hill. All the symptoms have been growing worse and worse until I could barely get up from a chair, had to use handrails to pull myself up the stairs one agonizing step with one leg at a time. At Christmas I couldn’t even put my arms behind my back, had bouts of dizziness, headaches, could’t think or remember well, RLS nightly, awake most of the night. The list goes on and on. The doctor told me it was because of all the additional holiday activities. Yea, right.

    My legs and arms were tingling. I have had EMG nerve tests. I had allergy tests, I had my TSH, T3, T 4 checked, you name it I had it and all came back normal. In Feb. I had a cold. One day I started itching like crazy, and my blood pressure was going up and up. Naturally, it was the weekend. Went to ER, and they said it was probably a side effect of the virus. Put me on prednisone and benedryl. Seemed to help until I stopped.

    At the follow-up visit with my doctor, my b/p dosage was doubled. Last month my heart started pounding like crazy, b/p again going up, the itching never went away, had tingling in my jaw and tightness in chest and arms. Naturally, it was the weekend again. Figured I better not take chances so off to ER, again. They did cardiac enzymes, ekg, chest x-ray and usual tests for heart. All came back fine. I was getting extremely upset with this entire mess so figured I would do my own research. Lo and behold, ALL the symptoms I have had for so many years are also the side effects of statin drugs. Do you think one doc would even consider that possibility? Of course not!

    Well, I comitted the unthinkable and went off atorvastatin!! I knew I had to do a follow up after ER anyway, so why not? Almost immediately the aches and pains decreased. When I saw the PA she gave me the lecture about how dangerous it was, and I would increase my chances of a cardiac incident by 12% over the next 10 years. I told her I was going to try being off it and watch my cholesterol for a while and asked her to do a baseline cholesterol sInce it was June and my last one was last November. Nope can’t do one of those til Aug. because ins. won’t cover two in a year. Oh, for Pete sake! Fine, I’ll take my chances.

    Turns out my GI guy wants to try me on a different med, and so he is ordering one. Heehee. Anyway, I am feeling soooo much better after only three weeks. It is amazing. My b/p is better, no more restless legs, my mind is feeling sharper again, my muscles don’t ache anywhere as much as they did. I can put my arms behind my back with ease; I can get up from a chair and not moan; I can go up and down stairs with ease, no more handrails; I can pick up and carry things again, no more tingling. I am not 100% yet, but so much better it is unreal. I still ache a little and feel there is room for improvement, but it has only been a few weeks. I am almost positive the statins played a HUGE part in how awful I felt.

    I am scared to death my cholesterol will go up, and I may have to go back on them, but for now I am loving the wonderful feeling. I am going to work harder at my diet and exercise more, now that I can move again. I can’t help but wonder how many others are diagnosed with diseases they don’t have due to statins. What a racket the pharmaceuticals have going. There are many good medications out there but many are dangerous and way over-prescribed.

    I wish someone would do an official study on the connection between fibromylgia, cfs and statins. It truly is scary. My husband is on them and having the same issues. He also is having kidney function problems. I keep telling him he better get off. He asked doc at last visit, but all she did was switch him to another statin drug. I am very concerned and going to be pushing harder for him to get off before they kill him. Sorry so long but wanted to give details and wonder how many others have same experience with statins and doctors pushing them and ignoring symptoms or attributing them to anything but statins. Good luck to all on here.

  6. CJ

    I have been taking atorvastatin now for several years, and I have complained t my doctor about being tired all the time, and my back, shoulders and neck always ache. I am tempted to just not take these anymore, and see how I feel when I am off them. I am 69 years old, and don’t like being so tired, and wore out all the time. I also break out in a sweat all over my body, it just seems to drip off my face and down my neck, and wonder if the pills might be part of that too? My blood tests have been really great with my cholestrol for the last several years now. If blood work is within normal ranges now, why should I continue taking this drug that causes so many other side effects?

  7. Padmanabhan

    I started taking atorvastatin 10 mg after angioplasty some 20 years ago. Had no side effects. It kept cholesterol well under control but I still got angina and had to undergo bypass surgery for 4 blocks. After that doctor raised dose to 20 mg daily. Had no side effects for 2 more years. Of late I am experiencing muscle weakness and joint pain in lower back and both knees. Also some cramps and stiffness. Finding it difficult to stand and walk. Can it be due to atorvastatin? I am 79 now.

  8. April
    Atlanta ga

    I have been on Atorvastatin a couple of months. I am experiencing aching in my left shoulder and down my arm and to my hand even. It keeps me up at night. I am having trouble putting clothes over my head because lifting my lift arm is difficult. It has lowered my numbers, but I don’t want to continue. I am afraid it will affect more of my body eventually and even cause permanent damage. I am hoping another station could work and have lesser negative affects.

  9. Richard Hubbard
    Marina, California

    I have had a period of sleeplessness getting only 2-3 hours of sleep. I feel excited and it seems
    to be insomnia. It seems to have started after a month or so of taking atorvastatin calcium tablets 20 mg. I cannot think of anything worse than sleeplessness and so have stopped for now taking the pills. My sleep patterns have improved. I can not positively blame atorvastatin for this insomnia but I sleep better now not taking the pills. My LDL cholesterol was lowered but I have also at the same time changed my diet. I no longer eat hamburger, only fish and chicken, so I will see if cholesterol can be lowered by a healthier diet without atorvastatin.

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