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Listen to Patients When it Comes to Statin Side Effects

On December 30, 2002 we heard from Helene F. about an unusual side effect she associated with Lipitor:

“I have a question about Lipitor. Recently, our family physician prescribed Lipitor for my husband and myself. We both have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and take glyburide. My husband also takes Avandia. Since we started on Lipitor our blood sugar has been rising rapidly. Could this be linked to Lipitor?”

At the time there wasn’t much information about such a side effect. Most physicians doubted that there could be any connection between statins and increased blood sugar. We immediately consulted Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, who has headed up the UCSD (University of California, San Diego) Statin Study about this question. She responded to our query about this controversial issue on Dec. 31, 2002:

“There are two studies that have shown unexpected significant increases in blood sugar or in hemoglobin A1C (which is an index of blood sugar over time) with statin use. Though increases are modest on average, some people appear to experience more considerable increases.”

Even with this information, many physicians doubted such a connection. When we wrote about statins and blood sugar elevations, we received angry letters from doctors suggesting that we would scare patients off statins unnecessarily. We also heard from other patients:

“I am so glad I am not going nuts!

I was on Zocor and now on Lipitor for the last 3 years. I started with 40mg and my blood sugar went to 180. Dr. recently changed me to 80mg and now my blood sugar is 250.

He says I am CRAZY and it can’t happen. It is nice to know even the prescribing information says it is possible.”

On Jan. 21, 2002, E. K. wrote: “I was recently informed after a series of blood 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 that might be contributing to my rise in blood glucose levels. I don’t want to take a medication that improves one medical situation (cholesterol) while making something else worse (blood sugar).

P.B. wrote on April 4, 2004: “I wish to inform you that I have been on Lipitor for about a year. I started developing leg pains and elevated blood sugar. I discontinued the Lipitor and my leg pains are going away and my blood sugar levels are coming down.”

O.C. wrote on Feb. 27, 2007: “I was put on Lipitor & found it shot my blood sugar through the roof. My doctor suggested two courses of action; either double my dose of metformin to control my diabetes or switch to another drug, ie. Crestor or Zocor. Do either of these drugs affect blood sugar? Or should I stick with Lipitor & double metformin?”

Now, roughly eight years later, we feel vindicated.

A study in The Lancet confirms that statins may indeed increase the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes 
(The Lancet, online, Feb. 17, 2010). Although the risk is not high, about 9 percent, it is real. People who are especially susceptible may, as Dr. Golomb pointed out seven years ago, see substantial increases in blood sugar when taking statins.

We bring this to your attention only as a precaution. If you do not experience a rise in blood sugar while taking statins, congratulations. That’s great. If, on the other hand, your blood sugar levels start to go up and you become “prediabetic” or if you are a diabetic and your glucose levels become hard to control, please contact your physician and bring the new research to her attention.

And if you have a story to share about statins and blood sugar (or any other side effects) please share them below. Perhaps someday health professionals will listen more carefully to the stories that patients have to share about drug-induced side effects.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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My case is far worse than what is depicted above. I was placed on Lipitor and an ACE inhibitor in Jan 2005. In March of that same year I had developed acute pancreatitis. It was not until they discontinued my Lipitor that the pancreatic inflammation ceased. It was never ascribed to any organic cause since I did not have Gall Stones, Liver issues, or alcoholism. It was theorized that it was drug induced but it was not known which drug caused it.

This necrotizing pancreatitis caused me to suffer chronic pancreatitis from that point on and has now resulted in me being an insulin dependent diabetic. The really sad part is that if I had just followed the doctors recommendations for my diabetes and not gathered the data showing the response of my system to insulin, I would still have A1Cs in the 8 range and not at 6 where I am now. Lipitor is not a benign medication and should have more warnings than are included on the label.

Not much in thoughts, but a lot of concerns! I was recently written a prescription for 40 mg of lipitor. My cholesterol is 211. Several yrs ago, after having a cholesterol number of 215, my nephrologist put me on 10 mg Lipitor. I only took a couple and then did an all natural diet, got off those and dropped my A1c from 13.9 down to 6.5 in three months. I was those two meds free. Things got out of hand, when I stopped paying attention to what I should have been eating. Now my A1c is at 8.8 and I do have cardio vascular risks. Also ckd stage 4 for the past 5 yrs. I balked at taking 40 mg of lipitor . With many sensitivities to drugs, why would not going back to a 10 mg regiment or 20 mg be as effective rather than 40 mg? So much med, I’m terrified something horrible will happen to me. Any thoughts you have, are appreciated.

I too have been on 40mg of simvastatins for 10 years, 5 years ago doctors knew I had the lung fibrosis, I knew I was getting very breathless but was only told I had this in august this year. Both my shoulders are agony but my left is worse, also my teeth are getting loose. Went to my gp and he has said come off the statins. I curse the day I was ever put on them especially as I was only put on them because of my family history not because I had high cholesterol.

I was put on the milder statin Zocor for 4 yrs., then suddenly, I had to have a value replacement or die, June 10, 2014, I was dying with her at home. My wife called EMT’s and they took me off to hospital. June 13, 2014 I had valve replacement and two by-pass veins done on heart also. While in hospital, I received no statin’s and discharged with no use of statin’s for 3 months. My glucose went down to low 100’s and my A1C proved that. I was at 2000 daily Metformin before surgery. Now, in September 2014, they put me on Astrovanstatin. In 30 days my glucose is over 250 daily, and my cholesterol is 300; before surgery my cholesterol was 100. Now I am on Zocor for 2 months and then I’ll be back with primary doctor for testing again.

My husband went into the hospital 10/2013 with a “coldness” feeling in his chest. His bp was 154/100(never high before). All cardiac enzymes were normal. Had a cardiac cath, vessels completely clean, chol was 440, trig 1100. Left hosp with metoprolol 25 mg bid, losartan htz 50/12.5 1 qd, zocor 20 mg and tricor 145.
Lipids 3 weeks later chol 200, trig 250. Had repeat labs last week chol 690 trigl 3600. He follows a good diet now and has lost 15 lbs, walks 30 min a day. One of his meds was making him very dry and he could hardly swallow. Dr said to stop the losartan. Seemed to help. He pees all day and up 4-5 times a night (from the metoprolol?) bp has been in the 110’s over 70’s. Dr wants labs redrawn tomorrow.
His cholesterol and triglycerides are way WORSE now than originally. Lab error??? Could it be one of his meds doing it??? Have to see the dr. Wednesday. I just want to STOP all these meds for a few weeks and see what his numbers are. He has felt lousy since starting all these meds :(

To clarify the last comment, even those of us with FH (my chol. is 599) frequently live to ripe old ages with astronomical cholesterol levels. My arteries are completely clear!! So if cholesterol is bad, and folks with 250 cholesterol are doomed, how come at least twenty percent of FHers have clear arteries even in our sixties and seventies? (I’m 66). I’ve written and visited cardiac experts and I’m here to tell you they have no ideas. What’s worse, they don’t care or at least aren’t interested enough to investigate. There’s too much money in just prescribing statins…

The notion that cholesterol (unless it is extremely high, as with familial hypercholesterolemia) is a “bad” thing is being more and more held up to question. Inflammation seems now to be the more likely culprit in atherosclerosis, but of course this doesn’t make good advertising material and therefore doesn’t suit the pharmaceutical companies at all. If statins are causing your neuropathy, there is every likelihood that they are also causing other problems. For example, have you had a lung X-ray lately? You may have interstitial pulmonary fibrosis. Or what about your muscles? They aren’t what they used to be, and not because of age.
I stopped statins on my own, got my old medical records which gave proof positive that Pravachol caused my pulmonary fibrosis (I am on oxygen 24/7 now, due to being put back on statins in 2009 after 15 years off them), and thanked my lucky stars that I did not ask my Mayo Clinic doctor for “permission” to stop the Zocor he had put me on a year earlier. He would never have assented at that time – but because of the past medical records I brought in, later lung function testing, X-rays, blood tests and other things he was forced to conclude that I am statin intolerant and says he would never, ever put me on statins again.
Had I not stopped but instead had listened to his insistence on my taking the “little bit” of Zocor (10 mg) – or, worse yet, had I listened to my local doctor’s insistence that I raise the dosage to 20 mg per day – I would by now be dead. No question about it. Doctors don’t always know best.

I had a reaction to cephalexin (Kefex) while on simvastatin and had to change to another antibiotic. My Doctor was not aware that this could happen. I noted in the literature that came with my next script that the reaction was possible.

My cholesterol is 599, my LDL is 540 and yet, at age 66, my coronary arteries are whistle clean (by EBCT). My condition traces back to my great grandparents, both of whom lived well past 90 and never had a hint of heart problems. It turns out that about 20 percent of familial hypercholesterolemics, me included, have absolutely no problems associated with our astronomical cholesterol and LDL.
I’ve written to multiple “experts” about the significance of this, and the universal response is some form of “no one knows”. “Genetics” is often thrown out, but of course “genetics” means nothing because no one knows which genes or how the genes manifest in protection. More likely, of course, is that there is only a weak association between cholesterol and plaque and no cause-and-effect.
If there were cause-and-effect, why should so many FHers have no plaque at all. The difference between association and causality is profound; cellphone usage and obesity rates associate (both have gone up), but it is almost certain that there is no causality. Cellphone usage does not cause obesity and obesity does not cause cellphone usage.
Wouldn’t it be nice if medicine was a little more rigorous eliciting causality from the enormous pile of useless associations?

Have been on Simvastatin and immediately had post nasal drip and chronic cough. Went on for months. Dr. said my symptoms “weren’t in the literature.” She switched me to yet another statin to no avail. I stopped the statin and the cough is gone, a bit of the nasal drip remains but continues to lesson after only a week off the statin.

It took one year for lipitor to start my cough. It didn’t stop for two years. During this time I was on no other meds. My doctor told me it couldn’t be the lipitor that was causing my cough as it was a miracle drug, so I continued with it.

During those two years I got pneumonia three times, bronchitis twice and many “colds”. I had the constant cough and runny nose even after the pneumonia and bronchitis cleared up. I was sent for allergy tests, breathing tests and to a nose and throat doctor. All tests came back negative. It felt like my chest, nasal area and bronchial area were inflamed. I also noticed that my taste buds and sense of smell was none existent.

As the months passed I was becoming weaker and run down. Constantly coughing and blowing my nose. I had to use puffers and spent a fortune on cough medicine.

I eventually stopped taking the drug on my own and the symptoms started to go away. It took a few months but they were becoming less and less.

That was six years ago and now I am currently going to see a specialist as my cholesterol is still high. I explained my story to him but he tells me he has never heard of symptoms to this degree and for that long. He said if it was the lipitor I would have experienced side affects within a few days not a year later. ??? and the coughing and runny nose would have also left a few days after stopping the drug. It has taken me six years to say yes to trying again. It was very traumatic going through that as there seemed to be no answer I was becoming depressed and didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.

I am now going to try Crest-or 10mgs twice a week along with another none statin drug. I will go back to see him in three months after a blood test so I hope this lesser dosage (twice a week) will work.

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