Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug made by Pfizer, is prescribed to people who are at risk for heart disease or stroke. It helps to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and heart surgery. Lipitor has been a huge seller for Pfizer, netting them billions of dollars in revenue. And while it may have saved lives in people at risk for heart disease and stroke, there are some serious risks too, including the development of type 2 diabetes while taking it.
Lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer by people who developed diabetes while taking Lipitor. They claim that the drug company failed to communicate the risk of developing high blood sugar until six years after Lipitor was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you have diabetes from taking Lipitor, or have suffered other serious side effects, you may be able to join a class act lawsuit or start one of your own in order to get compensation.
What is Lipitor?
The generic name for Lipitor is atorvastatin calcium. It was approved by the FDA in 1996 and proved so successful and popular that it became the biggest selling prescription drug of all time. It also belongs to the most prescribed class of drugs in the world, statins. Statins are drugs that lower cholesterol and are prescribed to people at risk of dying from heart disease or a stroke.
Although Pfizer’s patent on Lipitor has expired, by 2003 it had netted the company more than any drug in history. In 2008 alone Pfizer sold $12.4 billion worth of Lipitor. Now that there are generics on the market, there are several statins available, including generic atorvastatin.
How it Works
Statins like Lipitor are supposed to be prescribed to people to be used in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes like a healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss. It is prescribed to people who are at a high risk for heart disease or stroke, or for needing heart surgery. Lipitor can also be used in older children and teens with a genetic condition in which cholesterol cannot be removed naturally from the body.
Lipitor reduces the risk for stroke and heart disease by lowering levels of triglycerides and LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, while raising levels of HDL, the good cholesterol. Excess amounts of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol accumulate on the walls of arteries causing atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Lowering these fatty compounds and cholesterol with drugs like Lipitor has been proven to be effective in preventing heart attack, stroke, angina, and other types of heart disease. Lipitor and other statins block a liver enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. The enzyme is needed for the body to produce LDL.
Common Side Effects
Some of the more common and less serious side effects possible with Lipitor include diarrhea, joint pain, urinary tract infections, the common cold, a fever, and pain in the extremities. These are typically mild and most people tolerate Lipitor well, one of the reasons it has been popular as a medication. Some people may have an allergic reaction to Lipitor. Signs like swelling in the face, mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, and a skin rash should be treated immediately. An allergic reaction can be life-threatening.
High Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes
It was only many years after it came on the market that the risk of developing diabetes while taking Lipitor came to light. Evidence from studies found that people taking statins, including Lipitor, were at a ten to 22 percent increased risk for having type 2 diabetes. Lipitor presented more risk than most other statins in the study. The risk is also higher for women, elderly patients, and those of an Asian ethnicity.
The FDA announced in 2012 that statins like Lipitor could cause patients to develop high blood sugar levels, known as hyperglycemia. This can lead to type 2 diabetes if left untreated. Additional research only added to the known risk and found that post-menopausal women were at particular risk of developing type 2 diabetes after taking Lipitor.
Another concern with taking Lipitor is the possibility of experiencing liver damage. Anyone with liver problems or a history of liver problems is not supposed to take Lipitor. Although very rare, there have been cases of patients on Lipitor developing liver failure, in some cases fatal liver failure. Conditions connected to Lipitor include cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, hepatitis, and fatty liver. Symptoms of liver damage include a pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen, yellow eyes and skin, darkened urine, a loss of appetite, and fatigue.
Reports have also surfaced that indicate Lipitor may cause muscle problems in some people. Moderate joint and muscle pain is one common side effect, but more serious pains and damage are possible. In one study, people taking Lipitor were found to be at a 19 percent greater risk for joint and muscle problems and injuries.
Lipitor users may also be at a greater risk for a condition called myopathy, in which muscle fibers don’t function correctly. Myopathy causes pain, darkened urine, muscle tenderness, and weakness. A more severe form of myopathy called rhabdomyolysis is also possible for patients on Lipitor. It is characterized by death of muscle tissue. This cell death causes certain toxic compounds to be released into the blood, leading to kidney failure. Rhabdomyolysis must be treated or it can be fatal. This condition is rare, but Lipitor increases the risk of having it.
Many people who took Lipitor and developed type 2 diabetes have sued Pfizer claiming that the company did not adequately communicate the risk. The claim is that Pfizer knew that high blood sugar and resulting diabetes were possible, but marketed and profited from the drug anyway. Several cases against Pfizer were centralized to a South Carolina court in 2014. If you have been harmed by Lipitor, consider starting your own suit against drug giant Pfizer or joining one of the ongoing class action suits to get the compensation you deserve.