Statins and muscle pain

Helen Williams 2 By Helen Williams, Consultant Pharmacist for Cardiovascular Disease, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Statins are a type of medicine which reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood and are taken by around 5 million people in the UK every day.

High levels of cholesterol can lead to a narrowing and hardening of the arteries, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke. Taking a statin reduces this risk by helping to keep your cholesterol  levels down.

A research study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says that people who take statins are slightly more likely to have problems with muscle pain and their joints than those who don’t take them. The increased risk was very small though – rising from 85% if you don’t take statins to 87% if you do.

Unfortunately, muscle aches and pains are extremely common and a fact of life for many of us as we get older. It’s not even clear from the study if the problems reported were as a direct result of taking statins.

There are several different types of statin, each of which can have different effects on the muscles. If you think you are experiencing muscle pains due to a statin, talk to your pharmacist or doctor to see if taking a different one would help.

It’s really important you don’t stop taking your medicine. If just 1% of people stop taking their statin the result will be 2,000 more heart attacks and strokes over the next 10 years, but only 1,000 muscle problems will have been avoided.

Statins have revolutionised the care of people most at risk of heart attack and stroke. However, in one way, their benefits remain hidden. You might have had a heart attack today had you not been taking a statin, but you will never know this.

Many people experience no or only a few side-effects whilst taking a statin. Unfortunately, publicity about the negative effects of statins can prejudice people against them.  Like any medicine, the risk of side-effects must be balanced against the benefits they bring.

A final word – statins save lives but can’t wave a magic wand over an unhealthy lifestyle. If you are taking statins, remember you should also try and eat a healthy diet to reduce cholesterol levels, exercise more, quit smoking and cut down on alcohol to stay as well as possible.