- Lipitor lowers “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, while boosting “good” cholesterol (HDL).
- Lipitor is the most widely sold prescription drug in the U.S.
- Lipitor is not for pregnant women, those intending to become pregnant, or people with kidney or liver issues.
- Tolerable reactions include heartburn, muscle weakness, queasiness, and diarrhea.
- More serious side effects can include muscle breakdown, inflammation, and abdominal pain.
Lipitor (atorvastatin) is part of a class of drugs knows as statins (or HMG CoA reductase inhibitors). Atorvastatin is a drug that is taken to treat hyperlipidemia, an abnormally high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood. In simpler terms, atorvastatin lowers the concentrations of “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) and triglycerides, while boosting levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).
Through lowering high levels of cholesterol, Lipitor also reduces the risk factors that are commonly associated with all types of vascular and heart disease, as well as complications that high cholesterol can give to people with type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular problems.
Children age 10 and older and adults can be prescribed this drug for the treatment of high cholesterol and triglycerides, but patients with liver disease, pregnant women, women planning to get pregnant, as well as women who are breast-feeding should abstain from taking atorvastatin.
In addition, atorvastatin can cause complications which create failure in skeletal muscle tissue, leading to a breakdown in kidney function. Check with your health care provider urgently if you experience unusual muscle weakness or pain, especially when these come in conjunction with high fever, unfamiliar fatigue, or dark-colored urine.
For Lipitor to be most effective in treating high levels of cholesterol, it is advisable to take this drug in conjunction with exercise, good hydration, weight control, and a cholesterol-lowering diet that is low in fat or cholesterol.
There are some studies that suggest a relationship between statins and dementia. Statins include drugs like Crestor (rosuvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin), Livalo (pitavastatin), and Zocor (simavastatin). However, no direct relationship has been proven and additional studies must be conducted by researchers before it can be recommended clinically.
The most recent study was published in 2014 in the Public Library of Science (PLOS). The study involved approximately 16,000 Taiwanese individuals with type 2 diabetes who were new to statins, compared to 2,400 Taiwanese patients with diabetes who had been on statins. It must be noted that individuals with type 2 diabetes are already at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
The research revealed that people on statins like Lipitor or Crestor had a 25% lesser chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease, but statins did not have similar effects on other types of dementia. Might statins be the long-awaited breakthrough? Not so fast, say most researchers on Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study involved more than 5,000 persons in their seventies and early eighties. They were split up into a group that was given a statin by the generic name of pravastatin (brand name Pravachol), while the other group received a placebo (a substance with no active therapeutic effect.) After years monitoring both groups, the researchers concluded that there was no significant effect on cognitive function in the group that received the statin.
In yet another larger study involving more than 20,000 people who were split up between a placebo group and another group that was on simvastatin (brand-name Zocor, among others.) After another long monitoring period, the same result was reached: both groups displayed the same propensity for developing dementia. Thus, as stated, additional research is needed to clarify whether there is a link between statins and dementia.
The Potential Negative Side of Statins
Some researchers have discovered that patients taking statins reported memory loss symptoms after starting statins, although it did not occur to everyone taking statins. In a 2010 study of 600 people taking Lipitor, memory loss was identified as a symptom. Despite that, a precise association between Lipitor and memory loss, i.e. a cause-and-effect relationship, has yet to be confirmed. That is the reason why physicians routinely inquire about other underlying conditions that may affect memory, for example age, heart disease, and even pre-diagnosis Alzheimer’s.
The Potential Positive Side of Statins
However, according to research studies conducted by Dr. Tin-Tse Lin of Taiwan and presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, high doses of statins can actually help prevent dementia in older individuals. The large study was conducted on 58,000 people and found that high potency statins provided the strongest protection against dementia.
So what does all of this mean? In summary, research on the relationship between statins and dementia is ongoing. Until definite conclusions can be made, physicians will predominantly recommend other means of preventing memory loss and other symptoms of dementia in older populations.
- Studies have revealed that treatment with atorvastatin drugs is linked to significant reductions in vascular issues of the heart. Lipitor treatment is also effective in diabetic patients, especially those with type 2 diabetes.
- Lipitor must be taken once a day at anytime, and doses vary from a low dose of 10 mg to a high dose of 80 mg a day. The most common prescriptions are for dosages of either 10 or 20 mg a day, although it is often prescribed at a dose of 40 mg based on the patient’s overall health.
- Dosage adjustments are typically made by a health care provider at intervals of 2 to 4 weeks. Never change dosage of this medication without prior consultation with your doctor.
- Lipitor is not approved for use with children who are younger than 10 years-old. For those ages 10 to 17, the pediatric dose is 10 to 20 mgs a day, and a maximum dosage of 20 mgs a day, with adjustments at 4 weeks.
- If you realize that you have missed taking a dose, take one, unless the next time you are due to take your medication again is less than 12 hours away.
Avoid taking atorvastatin if you have experienced liver complications or are pregnant, intend to become pregnant, or if you are breast-feeding. Furthermore, make sure that you inform your doctor if you might have:
- A high and regular consumption of alcohol
- A thyroid problem
- History of kidney disease or current kidney problems that can show as shortness of breath or fatigue, muscle tenderness or pain, or difficult or painful urinating
- Liver problems that can show as gastrointestinal problems, itching, tiredness, nausea, weight changes, urine that is dark, and jaundiced or yellowish skin and eyelids
- Signs of a stroke, which can show as sudden severe headache, slurred speech, problems with vision or balance, one side of the body feeling suddenly weak or numb, or other unusual changes in your health
When on a Lipitor regimen, avoid eating grapefruit, for it can have adverse effects due to its’ reactions with atorvastatin. The same goes for excess alcohol consumption, for alcohol can cause injury to the liver and raise triglyceride levels.
In addition, when taking atorvastatin, older adults and individuals who have kidney disease or poorly controlled hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) may have complications that can produce a failure of skeletal muscle tissue, leading to a breakdown in kidney function.
Potential Less Severe Side Effects of Atorvastatin include:
- Muscle Weakness
- Lower Back or Side Pain
- Pain or Tenderness Around the Eyes and Cheekbones
Side effects that should be promptly reported to a physician include:
- Hemorrhagic Stroke
- Deterioration or Gradual Loss of Muscle
- Muscle Breakdown (rhabdomyolysis)
- Inflammation, Pain with Swelling of the Joints (Arthralgia)
- Abdominal or Stomach Pain
- Back Pain
- Belching or Excessive Gas
- Heartburn, Indigestion, or Stomach Discomfort
- Loss of Appetite, Vomiting
- Increased Thirst or Hunger
Other unusual side effects and sudden health issues:
- Confusion, or Memory Problems
- Fever, Drowsiness, and Loss of Appetite
- General Feeling of Discomfort or Illness
- Dark Urine
- Jaundice, i.e. yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Runny or Stuffy Nose, Sneezing, Coughing, Sore or Scratchy Throat (nasopharyngitis)
- Sleep Disturbance and Insomnia
Less known incidence:
- Continuing ringing or buzzing or other unexplained noise in the ears
- Menstrual bleeding occurring earlier or lasting longer than usual
- Black, tarry stools
- Bloody nose
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Blurred vision
- Difficult, burning, or painful urination
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Excessive muscle tone or tension
- Groin or scrotum pain
- Increased body movements
- Increased sensitivity of the eyes to light
- Increased sensitivity to touch or pain
- Increased urination
- Loss of sexual ability, drive, or desire
- Depression, nervousness, nightmares, paranoia
- Pinpoint red spots on the skin
- Slurred speech
- Swollen or tender lymph glands in the neck, armpit, or groin
- Unable to move or feel face
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
- Large, hive-like swelling on the face, eyelids, lips, tongue, throat,
- Hands, legs, feet, or sex organs
- Red skin lesions, often with a purple center sore
- Red, irritated eyes
- Sore throat
- Sores, ulcers, or white spots in the mouth or on the lips
Lipitor and Alcohol:
Excessive alcohol consumption can boost triglyceride levels and may cause harm to the liver; conserve your health by drinking in moderation when taking Lipitor.
Atorvastatin and Grapefruit:
When taking atorvastatin, you need to abstain from eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice, as these may boost levels of the drug to hazardous intensities in your system.
Atorvastatin and Drug Interactions:
There are numerous medications that interact with atorvastatin, including:
- Many antacids
- Several antibiotics (for example, clarithromycin or erythromycin)
- Diltiazem (Cardizem, Cartia, Dilacor, and others)
- Oral contraceptives
- Antifungal medicines (such as fluconazole, itraconazole, ketoconazole, or voriconazole)
- HIV medications (such as darunavir, fosamprenavir, ritonavir, and various others)
- Medicines that contain niacin (for example Advicor, Niaspan, Niacor, and various others)
- Drugs that weaken your immune system (such as steroids, cancer medicine and others)
- Medicines used to prevent organ transplant rejection (such as sirolimus, tacrolimus and others
Here is some information that may be of interest to anyone on a Lipitor regimen or discussing taking Lipitor with a health care provider:
Atorvastatin and weight gain:
Individuals often ask about Lipitor in connection with weight gain. There is nothing in the medical literature on this subject. However, while on this medication, you should exercise and maintain a healthy diet to prevent gaining weight. Be alert to the possibility that recent changes in your weight are not resulting from some other coexisting health-related condition.
Lipitor and muscle pain and tenderness:
One of the more serious, though infrequent, Lipitor byproducts includes weakness or tenderness in muscle groups. If you or a loved one experience such symptoms, you should not procrastinate. Instead, consult with a physician before this condition gets worse.
Atorvastatin and anxiety:
The prescribing information that is readily available for Lipitor mentions nothing about anxiety resulting from taking Lipitor. If you feel stressed out or having anxiety attacks while on a regimen of Lipitor, your doctor will once again be able to tell you if this is being caused by another coexisting condition, or he or she may lower your dosage of the drug.
Lipitor and grapefruit:
Lipitor (atorvastatin) has an adverse interaction with grapefruit juice, the effects of that combination lasting up to 24 hours or more after consuming grapefruit. While taking Lipitor, grapefruit and its juice may lead to potentially hazardous effects.
Lipitor and vitamins:
According to the information that the Lipitor manufacturer provides on the package, Lipitor does not react adversely with vitamins or herbal supplements. Any unusual physical or mental changes should however be promptly discussed with your doctor.
Lipitor and memory:
There is conflicting evidence about the relation of Lipitor to memory and Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. It has not been proven whether the memory loss that is occasionally observed in older people is caused by the Lipitor that they are taking or by other age-related causes, cardiovascular issues that may be causing the beginnings of vascular dementia, or other reasons already present in as yet undiagnosed dementia. Let your physician guide you on this, as informed by the most up-to-date research.
Lipitor is a medication used for lowering high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. If you are concerned about its possible impact on memory and other cognitive function, the evidence to date is mixed and inconclusive. The best thing you can do is to allow your primary care physician to guide you based on your medical history and signs and symptoms that he or she discovers during an examination. Lipitor is an effective drug for lowering cholesterol, and while it may show promise in other realms (e.g. dementia prevention), research is not conclusive enough to recommend it for these purposes.