Lipitor (atorvastatin) is used to treat and lower high cholesterol levels. By doing so, it can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Lipitor and other statins block low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol production in the liver. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol. High LDL levels put you at risk for stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular conditions.

Millions of Americans rely on statin medications like Lipitor to regulate and treat high cholesterol.

As with any medication, Lipitor may cause side effects. Studies have shown a possible connection between Lipitor and serious side effects, such as type 2 diabetes.

The risk appears to be greater for people who are already at an increased risk for diabetes and who have not taken preventative measures, such as making lifestyle changes and taking doctor-prescribed medications like metformin.

Other side effects of Lipitor include:

  • joint pain
  • back pain
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • infection
  • insomnia
  • diarrhea
  • rash
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • urinary tract infection
  • painful urination
  • difficulty urinating
  • swelling in feet and ankles
  • potential muscle damage
  • memory loss or confusion
  • increased blood sugar levels

In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Lipitor for the purpose of lowering cholesterol. Following its release, researchers found that more people who are on statin therapy are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes compared to people who are not on statin therapy.

In 2012, the FDA revised safety information for the popular statin drug class. They added additional warning information stating that a “small increased risk” of high blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes has been reported in individuals who use statins.

In its warning, however, the FDA acknowledged that it believes the positive benefits to a person’s heart and cardiovascular health outweigh the slightly increased risk of diabetes.

The FDA also added that people on statins would need to work more closely with their doctors to monitor blood sugar levels.

Anyone who uses Lipitor — or a similar cholesterol-lowering drug — may be at risk of developing diabetes. Researchers don’t completely understand what causes the increased risk for diabetes.

It’s important to note, however, that researchers and the American Diabetes Association have stated the risk for diabetes is very small and far outweighs the positive heart-health benefits.

Not everyone who takes a statin medication will develop side effects, such as type 2 diabetes. However, certain people may have an increased risk. These individuals include:

  • females
  • people over 65
  • people taking more than one cholesterol-lowering medication
  • people with existing liver or kidney diseases
  • people who consume higher-than-average amounts of alcohol

Current research doesn’t suggest people with diabetes should avoid statin medications. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all people 40 years of age or older with Type 2 diabetes be started on a statin even if no other risk factors are present.

Your cholesterol level and other health factors will determine whether you should receive high- or moderate-intensity statin therapy.

For people with both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), sodium–glucose cotransporter 2 inhibitors (SGLT2), or glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists (GLP1-RA) are also recommended as part of a regular treatment regimen.

If you’re living with diabetes, you can greatly reduce your risk for cardiovascular problems by taking these medications. However, you should still continue to make lifestyle changes that can improve your diabetes, your need for insulin, and your need for statins.

The best way to avoid this potential side effect of Lipitor is to reduce your need for the cholesterol-lowering medication and make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of diabetes.

If you’re interested in moving forward without a medication, talk with your doctor. They will suggest steps you can take to help reduce your LDL and your risk of related conditions.

Here are some steps you can take to help improve your cholesterol.

Maintain a healthy weight

If you’re overweight, your risk for high cholesterol may increase because of your overall health. Work with your doctor to determine the best plan to help you lose weight.

Eat a healthier diet

An important part of maintaining a healthy weight is eating a healthy and balanced diet.

Increasing your intake of low-cholesterol foods will help. Try to maintain a diet plan that is lower calorie but high in vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat more fruits and vegetables, leaner cuts of meat, more whole grains, and fewer refined carbs and sugars.

Move more

Regular exercise is good for your cardiovascular and mental health. Aim to move at least 30 minutes each day for 5 days per week. That’s 30 solid minutes of movement, like walking or jogging around your neighborhood, or dancing.

Kick the habit

Smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke increase your risk for heart disease. The more you smoke, the more likely you will need long-term cardiovascular medications. Stopping smoking — and kicking the habit for good — will reduce your chances of facing serious side effects later.

Remember that you shouldn’t stop taking Lipitor or any statin medication without first talking with your doctor. It’s very important that you follow your doctor’s prescribed plan to help you reduce your need for the medication.

If you’re currently taking a statin drug such as Lipitor — or considering starting one — and you’re worried about your risk for diabetes, talk with your doctor.

Together, you can look at the clinical research, the benefits, and the potential for you to develop a serious side effect as it relates to statins. You can also discuss how to minimize possible side effects and how to decrease your need for medication by improving your health.

If you begin experiencing symptoms of diabetes, talk with your doctor immediately. Your doctor can order tests to help them make a diagnosis. Quick and thorough treatment is important for your long-term health.