By Duane Graveline, M.D., M.P.H.
The adverse side effects from these drugs are another matter as the numbers of people on Lipitor (atorvastatin) rapidly increase and the side effect reports flood in. If you are on Lipitor or are planning to start taking Lipitor, you must read my books.
Five years ago when I started this research, reported side effects were primarily "a few aches and pains and occasional liver intolerance", arguably an acceptable price for society to pay for such a beneficial class of drugs.
No longer does this come even close to the truth. Of great concern today are the growing numbers of adverse drug reports associated with the use of Lipitor and the other stronger statin drugs, reflecting dysfunction of many different body systems.
In my books, I discuss the reasons for this broad range of devastating side effects. The mevalonate pathway, critical to statins' inhibition of cholesterol, is the pathway used by many other vital body functions. From CoQ10, to dolichols, to normal phosphorylation and to selenoprotein synthesis, all are affected by the broad reach of statins. Side effects on muscle, nerve and memory functions are not some extremely rare, almost unique, problem. They are all but inevitable with the use of mevalonate inhibitors.
Doctors were delighted when the drug companies gave us our truly big gun - statins. More recently we learned that statins worked not only by cholesterol reduction but also by anti-inflammation and CRP ( c-reactive protein ) began to point to cardiovascular disease risk much better than cholesterol levels.
Now enter cholesteryl ester transfer protein activity (CETP), long been known to correlate with lipid levels. The lower the CETP the higher the HDL and the higher the HDL, the lower the CV risk, presumably. However, an initial clinical trial last year with Torcetrapib, a CETP inhibitor, resulted in a catastrophe of CV disease and had to be stopped prematurely. Something clearly was wrong with the underlying concepts.
Now this concept has been evaluated using the old, reliable Framingham study. The plasma CETP values of 320 study participants were followed as these people went on about their life and, in some cases, death from coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, or heart failure.
The results were that a robust inverse relationship existed between CETP and CV disease risk. The lower your CETP ( and the higher the HDL ) the greater the incidence of these problems.
The authors state that these observations, if confirmed, challenge the concept that CETP inhibition may lower CVD risk. What they could just as correctly have said is that the entire concept of cholesterol causation has been challenged. The only reasonable explanation for these extraordinary findings is that cholesterol is irrelevant to the atherosclerotic process.
Here are a few of the reports I have received from readers of my books and from websites regarding personal experiences of atorvastatin side effects.
1.) My father (aged 56) has been taking Lipitor for about three years now. He forgets telling us stories or events of the day and then tells us the same story over and over (about ten times sometimes). If I ask him to do something, he has forgotten about it within ten minutes. It is progressively getting worse and my mother is getting very worried.
I heard a co-worker saying the other day that Lipitor made him really depressed and then thought that maybe Lipitor makes my father forget things. So, I went onto the Internet and searched "Lipitor - amnesia" and was shocked at what I found. I'm not sure that this is the problem, but could it be from that?
2.) For some time I've been concerned that Mum was becoming forgetful and becoming more reliant on her diary to remember appointments, etc., and that she was becoming increasingly confused. I am very concerned that on top of her other concerns, she may now have dementia. I did some research on dementia on the 'net, and began to consider having a closer look at the drugs she is, and has been taking. I've been gathering information on all the drugs she is currently taking, and am seeking to have all her specialists look closely at many concerning symptoms, including the confused thinking, 'though I suspect it will be a long and frustrating road.
Somehow, for a period of approx. six weeks, Mum was taking 40mg Lipitor and 40mg Simvar daily. It was picked up when she was recently admitted to the emergency department of our local hospital with chest pain. I asked doctors if the doubling-up could have caused some damage. I was told, if she had experienced no severe pain in arms and legs, then probably no.
3.) I suffer now from memory loss and am always tired dizzy - God, too many things to mention. My Dr gave me so many drugs I can't remember all their names but as a result of this Dr I now have all kinds of things wrong with me. I take Lipitor now. Have been for about 2 years or so - before that Mevacor. I thought I was just getting older and my memory was going. I'm 55.
All my family and friends told me something was wrong with me but I never thought my meds would do that. What can I do to get my memory back? I start to do something and it's like I don't remember what I was doing. My 17-year old daughter tells me I have Alzheimer's disease. She asks me did I do this or that today and I tell her what because I forget so much. People think I'm real slow any more. Just like driving - I was taking my son's baby to the Dr and I forgot how to get there.
4.) I am a business man, 42, good health, was 30 lbs over weight, and lost 30 lbs on a moderate Atkins and exercise program over 8 months. Lipitor was prescribed 3 months ago; cholesterol came down immediately to 170s but in the last 30 days have felt like my brain is in a fog. I can't remember short-term things like; I just picked up the phone now, who was I going to call or what someone just told me hours or days earlier. I am going nuts thinking I am going thru some type of midlife thing until I was talking to a friend about it yesterday and he described that his father (a very sharp guy) had experienced the same thing and had narrowed it down to Lipitor being taken in the morning
5.) My 63 year old wife has been on a max dose of Lipitor for over a year. Since the increase in her dose she began experiencing constant muscle soreness and increased short- term memory problems. She brought this to her doctor's attention, but other than a check to rule out Alzheimer's disease, nothing was done. A week ago your site was brought to my attention and I sent her to the doctor with a printout of your site. He seemed to already be aware of the possible connection between Lipitor and her symptoms and took her off the drug for six weeks. We'll see if there's any change in her symptoms during these six weeks.
6.) I found your web page when I decided to search out Lipitor. I have been on Lipitor longer than I can remember. I started with Pravachol and then went to Lipitor. I never associated my lack of energy and muscle problems with the drugs though. I was having a series of deep tissue massages with a massage person whom I have used before.
After the 3rd session my neck muscles were just as tight as when I started. She asked me if I was taking any cholesterol medications and I had to say yes. She had told me she had seen a number of her patients with close to the same problems and they all were taking the cholesterol medicines. She asked me when I saw my doctor next and I told her in October when I was due for my blood work. She just suggested that I might want to consider going off of the Lipitor till then and just see how I felt. She gave me something to really think about.
I only thought for a very short period as I stopped taking it the next day. I went on vacation and started having more energy and my neck pain was minimal. I was amazed. I feel really great right now. I still need to tell my doctor but might wait till I go back in October. I just wanted to let you know that your web page really helped me and all the other ones too.
7.) I have been taking Lipitor 40mg. for approx. 1 year. For about six months I have had severe pain in the muscles around my left elbow, especially when twisting my thumb downward with my arm outstretched. I am 47 years old, and an automobile technician by trade. I went to my family physician and was told that I had tennis elbow. In the last month the problem also began to show up in my right elbow. This condition makes doing my job very painful at times, depending on what I have to do.
A few weeks ago an insurance salesperson came to my shop to try to sell me disability insurance. When she asked me if I was on any medications, and I told her I was taking Lipitor, she asked me if I have arm pain. I told her, "come to think of it, I do." She said that her mother had experienced severe arm pain while on Lipitor, and had to stop taking it. She told me that ever since the problem with her mother, she now asks people if they experience arm pain, if they tell her they are taking Lipitor. She said that a large percentage of people she asks do, in fact, experience pain in their arms. I stopped taking Lipitor about 2 weeks ago, and the pain in my arms is almost gone.
8.) I am 65 yrs. old I've been taking Lipitor for over 8 yrs. then my Doctor added Lopid for more than one year. From what I saw on the internet you can not combine Lopid with Lipitor. It will cause muscle problems, which I now have and feel like I'm going cripple. I stopped taking Lipitor six months ago. I would like to warn any one out there not to take Lipitor with Lopid. It's a horrible pain to have muscle problems.
9.) The evolution of my Lipitor problems. My right foot on the pedal was now at a funny angle. My quad muscles became unusually sore. My libido was now non-existent. At night in bed I was getting palpitations and my heart rate rhythm was very irregular with the heart stopping for about two/three seconds about six times a minute. My performances on the bike were getting steadily worse.
In June I raced a 25-mile time trial and barely finished the distance totally exhausted. It was then that I researched Lipitor on the internet. I am very angry to think that the medical profession can proscribe a drug with these side effects. I do not know whether or not there was a drug interaction with the antibiotics or whether it made no difference, anyway I stopped taking Lipitor immediately.
That was 42 days ago. My heart rhythm is now back to normal, the palpitations stopped and libido back to normal, the soreness and stiffness in my neck almost gone. When riding my bike the angle of my foot on the pedal is now OK. My bike training is still suffering as my recovery is still not very good. To aid recovery I am taking 2000Mg Vitamin C 1000Mg Lysine 1000Mg L-Carnitine 120Mg CoQ10 and Vitamin B Complex supplements daily. Lipitor is a poison. It will probably take me anything up to six months to fully recover and with hopefully no permanent damage.
10.) My mother, age 84, lives with me, and has been taking Lipitor for 3 1/2 years, up until very recently. She's experienced a lot of muscle pain, inflammation, and symptoms similar to muscular dystrophy -- difficulty walking, rising from a seated position, coordination, droopy eyelid on one eye, tremor in her right hand, difficulty initiating walking, very dry eyes, and more.
It was only on August 17 when I ran across the article, "My Life After Lipitor", that I suspected Lipitor could be causing these symptoms and contributed to my mom's deteriorating health. Having called her primary physician immediately after suspecting this, they scheduled her for a CPK test. It was her first time. Her reading was 174, on a scale from 30 to 135. So, they've told her to stop Lipitor, and she should be fine in 2 weeks. Meanwhile, I have contacted health consultant and have begun to give my mom some of the recommended supplements as he advised.
Almost immediately, the tremor in her right hand was greatly reduced, and is almost gone entirely. But it's a long road ahead. She is so frustrated with her mobility issues, which makes her frightened to be in the house alone. She depends on us for assistance to dress, undress, toileting, showering and more. Mostly, she's afraid that she'll fall. She's lost all her confidence to be independent.
She's frequently asked me, "did I have a stroke?" She has not. Yet, she's felt so debilitated, that she's concluded she must have. I'm so frustrated her primary physician called her CPK results (174) only "mildly elevated" and of no concern. When I asked her physician if she recommended replacing Co-Q10 which her Lipitor had depleted, she said she wasn't familiar with this, but added, "it couldn't hurt.
Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor
Updated July 2011
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