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PHARMA: Does Lipitor cause memory loss?

While I was (very worthily) working out at the gym last night I noticed that November’s Smart Money had an article on Lipitor. Given that Lipitor is the single biggest product in health care, currently at $8 billion in revenue, it caught my eye. So I stuck in the reading tray on the elyptical trainer and read away as I elypted. The article (not available on-line) basically said that in a number of cases Lipitor has caused extreme muscle pain and (more devastatingly) alzheimers’ type memory loss in several patients. The article suggested that high doses (above 20mg of Lipitor) actually have the equivalent of 40mg of Zocor, one of its major rivals, yet Zocor can also be obtained in much lower doses (5mg and 10mg) which have virtually the same effect in lowering cholesterol.  Why doesn’t Pfiizer make Lipitor in lower doses?  Bob Erlich, now an industry consultant  running DTCPerspectives Magazine but the guy responsible for Lipitor’s launch at Parke-Davis is quoted as saying essentially (I’m paraphrasing here) that one dose made it easier for the physicians to prescribe as they didn’t have to bother matching patient and dosage.

The article goes on to suggest that independent (i.e. non-pharma funded researchers) have established the high dose to muscle pain link and that the memory loss issue is well known. Behind this is a strong hint that Pfizer is too big to fight either in the dissemination of the message to doctors, or in the law courts–apparently no lawyer will sue until the FDA has withdrawn the drug from the market.  Pfizer for its part acknowledges that the muscle pain is a recognized side effect, but claims that the memory loss–which the article focuses on as it’s pretty devastating–has nothing to do with Lipitor. However, everyone remembers that another statin Baycol was on the market until it was found that in a few cases it caused severe liver damage and was recalled.

It doesn’t take long googling to find several dissatisfied Lipitor users with intense muscle pain and others with transient or long-term memory loss. Unfortunately the Smart Money article doesn’t give any denominators, so there’s no real evidence other than these anecdotal stories about whether significant numbers of people have had these reactions to Lipitor.  So despite the heart-rending stories, you can’t draw any conclusions. Also don’t forget that in the grander scheme of things (if you believe the conventional wisdom that lower cholesterol reduces heart disease), Lipitor is saving thousands of lives for each one it hurts–if it does hurt. This argument is played out in this article on theheart.org (long registration process required.)

From a business perspective what’s important here is the perception of risk.  If statins work for millions and millions of people but a few people allegedly suffer from its side-effects, that’s really the same story that existed for Baycol.  The FDA has been criticized for allowing too many drugs on the market that have to be withdrawn.  Almost always the reason for the withdrawal is a nasty side-effect (e.g. death!) for a very small minority of patients. For Pfizer and its $8 billion drug, there is a very low but existing risk that this could be the end result for Lipitor. Pfizer’s stock has been off slightly in recent months on fears that some patent lawsuits might hurt Lipitor and Zoloft.  Of course that’s nothing to what would happen if Lipitor had to be withdrawn, so watch this wildcard.

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Murri
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Murri

Thought I was going goofy. Couldn’t remember names, words, procedures, etc. Correlation of begining Lipitor and begining memory problems was too coincidental. Also issues with joint stiffness and overall lethargy. Going off Lipitor now and will become my own health monitor.

Students
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Students

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Step 1: View the following Lipitor Commercial
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DDNqxceT2k
Step 2: Fill out the following Survey
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colleen
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colleen

After my hysterectomy my cholestrol levels went high,along with other things. I went to a Cardiologist on my own,he put me on Crestor (6yrs. ago) and I have had no problems at all-except the cost!!Generic will be out in about 6 yrs. I tried Zocor & Lipator before Crestor-too many aches & pains.

wally
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Ron
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Ron

When I look at the side effects for Lipitor on the official site, I see nothing on memory loss. How is this possible??

Kathleen Green
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Kathleen Green

Be extremely cautious taking Lipitor-only take it if absolutely nothing else works–diet,exercise-other meds etc.
Kathleen Green R.N. B.S.

John
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John

I am so glad that I stumbled on this site. I switched from SIMCOR to LIPITOR as I was feeling lethargic and suffering some muscle pain with SIMCOR. I have been taking LIPITOR for just 2 weeks but I noticed a significant memory issue almost immediately. I have been learning a new language and doing very well until the past 2 weeks. Now I have come to a grinding halt and in fact have relapsed. I can’t remember nearly as many words as I did a month ago. I also find myself embarrassed when I can’t quickly remember my own… Read more »

howard
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howard

You people are doing a disservice to everyone on here. Yes, Lipitor can be associated with muscle aches. That’s something you and your doctor should be monitoring. If it’s a problem, you can lower the dose or try alternative medicine. With any drug you need to weigh the benefit versus the risk. If you have high cholesterol, Lipitor has a much, much greater chance of preventing heart attack and death, than it does of causing you any lasting harm. I have not seen any literature on Lipitor causing memory problems. Don’t listen to the yahoos on this site. Get your… Read more »

carolyn
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carolyn

ive been on lipitor far 1 year. ive noticed some congitive decline…………word salad or lost far words. anyone had the same please let me know

Yvonne B.
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Yvonne B.

I have been taking lipitor for nearly 2 months been putting it off for years as I did take it at one time years ago, but quit back then and can’t remember why.I was talking at a gathering the other day and totally lost all track of what I was saying , which never happens to me , in just 2 months , also I do a word game and have been beating myself up over the fact I knew the words ,and couldn”t remember them ,this is just 2 months , now I am worried, my colestrol is 325… Read more »

Val
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Val

My husband has been on Lipitor since March 2006, when he had 5 stents implanted. He started with a dosage of 20mg and increased to 40mg. six months later, his total cholestrol is now at 124, however he has had a decline in short term memory, and he has also complained of not being as strong as in the past, he’s 70 (and still works full time)grudgingly put this down to normal aging as did his primary care Dr. (although these symptoms manifested themselves after he started with the Lipitor). After what I have been reading and discussing it together… Read more »

FLORENCE
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FLORENCE

tHIS HAS BEEN VERY INTERESTING FOR ME TO READ ALL THESE COMMENTS REGARDING LIPITOR.
I HAVE BEEN N THIS MEDICICATION FOR A FEW YEARS NOW AND MOST CERTAINLY AM EXPERIENCING THE MEMORY LOSS AND SEVERE JOIN/MUSCLE PAIN.
FOR THE LAST TWO WEEKS I STOPPED TAKING MY LIPITOR AND AT THE MOMENT AM COMPLETELY PAIN FREE. I WILL GIVE IT ANOTHER WEEK AND THEN START TAKING THE LIPITOR AGAIN TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
WILL KEEP YOU POSTED.

Carol
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Carol

Correction to the spelling of my natural cholesterol tablet: should be Policosanol. Interesting reading in the “Natural alternative to statins”

Carol
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Carol

My husband is 56 and has been on Zocor since having a stent inserted approximately 5 yrs ago. For the past 6-12 mths I have noticed his memory has been deteriorating, he’s also had muscle and joint pains for several months. We asked the Dr yesterday about it and he said to come off Zocor for a month and monitor it. We have done this. I am on a natural tablet by Blackmores called “Polioconasol” which is made from sugar cane wax. My cholesterol was 65 and after 6mths was down to 50. Blackmores is a company in Australia…not sure… Read more »

Diana
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Diana

My experience with cholesterol medication goes back to the mid-1990s when I was put into the Mevacor trials by my GP. This worked well for a while, but when we moved as my husband retired and I closed my business, my new cardiologist switched me to Lipitor. Doses were elevated over the years, and my heart arteries had to be cleaned out several times; I now live with six stents in my heart. My Lipitor dosage had risen to 240 mg./day over the years. This spring I began to notice memory problems (I had always had leg cramps when sleeping… Read more »