bottles of crestor lipitor and simvastatin cholesterol-lowering drugs

When Mevacor (lovastatin) was first marketed in 1987 it quickly became a game changer. That’s because it was perceived as extremely effective for lowering cholesterol with far fewer side effects than existing drugs.

Lopid (gemfibrozil) Never Became a Blockbuster:

Prior to this first statin-type cholesterol-lowering medication there was a certain amount of ambivalence about cholesterol lowering drugs. Lopid (gemfibrozil) was one of the best known and most successful medications prior to Mevacor. It lowered bad LDL cholesterol a modest 11 percent.

Although Lopid appeared to reduce the risk of heart attacks, it came with a list of side effects including gallstones, indigestion, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, flatulence, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, numbness or nerve tingling, lowered libido and erectile dysfunction.

The Statin Revolution:

Mevacor seemed like a fabulous alternative and it quickly became the hottest cholesterol-lowering drug on the market. Its success spawned lots of other statins including Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
, Fluvastatin (Lescol)
, Pitavastatin (Livalo)
, Pravastatin (Pravachol)
, Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
, Simvastatin (Zocor)
 and Simvastatin + Ezetimibe (Vytorin).

Initially, most doctors believed that statins had few, if any, side effects. Tens of millions of people were prescribed these drugs even if they had hardly any risk factors for heart disease. In some cases doctors encouraged people to take a statin “just in case,” even if their cholesterol levels were relatively “normal.” The assumption was that the drugs were so safe there was no reason not to take them even if the person was in good health.

Side Effect Reports to People’s Pharmacy:

When we started hearing reports from people that they were suffering muscle pain and weakness, memory problems, erectile dysfunction, peripheral neuropathy or blood sugar elevations, we were told by some health professionals that these were old folks just showing signs of normal aging. These physicians insisted that such side effects could not possibly be due to statins.

We didn’t buy it, but it was hard to convince some statin enthusiasts that the drugs might be taking a toll on otherwise healthy people. Over the last two decades we have received so many stories from individuals that we could have written a book. In fact we did! We included these stories in two books, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy and Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them. There are also hundreds of reports on this website.

What About Muscle Pain?

Most physicians now agree that statins can indeed cause muscle pain and weakness in some people. That is in part because many physicians have themselves experienced these symptoms after taking statins. There are also reports in the medical literature documenting these adverse reactions, even though the original clinical trials somehow missed these complaints. An article in the BMJ (October 22, 2013) points out this discrepancy:

“the prevalence of muscle pain in statin users is 50% greater than in non-users. In absolute terms, this increase in muscle pain is 100 times greater than that reported in clinical trials…”

Some health professionals acknowledge that there can be cognitive dysfunction for certain patients. There is even data to suggest that statins can cause fatigue, especially after exercise (Archives of Internal Medicine, Aug. 13/27, 2012).

Do Statin Side Effects Persist?

The unanswered question, though, is do some side effects persist even after the statins have been discontinued? There have been very few studies even examining this issue. One intrepid researcher, Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, has suggested that some individuals are especially susceptible to statin side effects. For them, adverse reactions can be devastating and may linger for a very long time.

We received a poignant comment from a visitor to this website. We felt compelled to share Donna’s story:

“Everyone needs to know that statins can do permanent nerve and muscle damage!

“I stopped taking them more than a year ago and I am still in pain, still can’t walk upstairs without pain and my CK (muscle enzymes) are still elevated; so are my liver enzymes.

“Those meds need to be taken off the market. Some people develop rhabdomyolosis from taking statins and some even die from it. They are harmful and there’s no getting around that.

“I have permanent damage to my muscles and they continue to deteriorate. I am frightened and I have undergone many tests, EMG’s (electromyography); MRI’s; multiple blood tests and a deep muscle biopsy. The results of the biopsy were ‘unspecified inflammatory myopathy.’ Since there was no absolute diagnosis of any disease I am left with no treatment.

“The doctor told me not to lift anything heavy and to drink lots and lots of water. I used to walk 2 miles a day and lift free weights to stay in shape. Now I can no longer do that. I can’t sleep soundly anymore. I wake up throughout the night from anxiety now, which I never had before this. I’m scared and don’t know what to do.

“I go for a blood test every 3 months to monitor the CK levels, which were at 2010 (the highest they’ve been yet) and that was in July of this year. I’m due for another blood test this month for my annual physical and I’m so afraid they will be higher.

“I hurt all over most of the time but I continue to go to work and try not to think about the pain. There should be a law against this sort of thing. My doctor frightened me into taking them. She told me if I didn’t take them I would die of a heart attack or liver disease. Please pray for me. I’m afraid.”

Even after 25 years of statin experience there is a lot we do not know about such drugs. A study now reveals what we have worried about for a long time and that is that statins may increase the risk for cataracts.

Whether these drugs also contribute to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or permanent muscle problems such as those described by Donna above, we do not know. We do know that for otherwise healthy people, there are alternate ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. You can learn about them in our books and guides.

Anyone who would like to share a story (positive or negative) about statins may do so below.

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  1. Dannica

    I was also prescribed a statin (pravastatin) by my doctor. I was 35 at the time with cholesterol levels well above 275. My blood pressure was always spot on perfect, blood sugar normal, liver good and no other health issues. After taking it for 3 months I started having serious muscle cramps that would persist nonstop for 3-7 days at a time. I informed my Dr and he basically told me drink more water and exercise. A month or 2 went by and I developed very annoying muscle spasms that were extremely hard to hide. (Fingers, neck, and random large muscles) I again informed my Dr and he said its my body telling me I needed to work out more. I started getting horrible migraines on top of these other issues and I decided to see a neurologist. After several blood tests and an MRI of my brain (to rule out MS or tumor) she instructed me to immediately stop the statin.

    It’s been 2 years since I stopped the statin and I still have the non stop muscle spasms which tire me out physically and keep me from a good nights sleep. I have noticed that my muscles get tight if I stay in 1 position for more than 10-15 minutes, and I fatigue very quickly. This has made a serious impact on what used to be an active life of sports and overall health.

    I will NEVER EVER again take a prescribed med unless it is absolutely a matter of life or death.
    The doctors and pharmaceutical companies have no regards for the quality of people’s lives. It’s all about money and getting richer at any cost.
    To all of you that have similar stories, I’m right there with you and know what you are going thru.

  2. Maggie

    I don’t understand. Doctors are aware of this now yet still prescribe these strong drugs. I’m also on Lipitor. The Doctor placed me on a very high dose right off. I requested it to be cut in half however,it seems to be too late. The drug was also discontinued for a while however,there was not improvement. At this point,I had already been taking it for years. I suspect this drug has ruined my quality of life. Every day is a constant battle to keep moving. I’m pretty young yet however,my leggs are weaker during walking than most 85 yr. old’s I know!
    I don’t understand why Doctors continue to prescribe this drug. I begged for 2 years to be placed on a alternative medication. I finally just left that practice since they were very reckless with the manner of which my diabetic medicine and dosage were prescribed. My diabetes is now under fantastic control with a new Dr.

  3. chuck

    I heard from a friend who told me that she was taking Statins medication at very strong dose because she had high cholesterol level. Unfortunatly, that statin medication was so harmful to her that it killed her muscles and kidney. The effect was so severe that she could hardly walk. Now after I experienced her problem, I also had a problem with the Atorvastatin too. It weakened and caused so much pain on my right arm. Be aware of this poison pills, it is a no joke. Do not be victimized yourself.

  4. chuck

    I had been taking Atorvastatin at 80 mg as prescribed for years. Started last year, I had muscle pain on my right arm. My right arm. I believed, was really strong. Now whenever I moved or try to compress, I feel pain. My wife did some research and found that Statin might have been the cause of the pain. Few weeks ago, I visited my cardiologist and explained to him my symptom, he said it was likely caused by this statin medication. He reduced it from 80mg to 40 mg and added another medication (Zetia 10 mg) to work in syc with that reduced 40 Atorvastin. I am still very concerned whether I should listen to him or just stop that poison altogether. By the way, he told me to stop temporarily for 2 weeks of this Statin, and call him back on Jan 4th to let him know whether the stoppage will do unharm. It has been over a week now my muscle pain still there. He also told me to take Co Q10 too. I have been taking CoQ10 for over a week, still feeling no improvement. Anyone wants to suggest anything to undo the effect of this poison pill? Please share.thank you.

    • Harmony1

      Chuck, I just had to reply to you. I took 5 – 10 mg of statins for about 6 – 7 years with no identifiable side effects. Then, one weird thing started happening… EXTREMELY debilitating cramping, spasms, electric pains that would shoot up and down both legs suddenly, unannounced and left me screaming and crying for hours. I lived with this, it happened about 10 – 12 times a year. My doctor couldn’t figure out what it was. It was most likely a warning signal that got ignored. THEN I started robust exercise, about 3 hrs a day (at the age of 58) and that increased these episodes considerably. Then after about 18 months of this exercise bout, I started losing muscle control, couldn’t even use my foot breaks going downhill on my bike. Nada. I left exercise groups in tears from the pain. Finally a cardio doctor made the link and I went off the statins completely. That was 3 years ago. I still can almost not walk, I use an electric wheelchair outside the house. It is pathetic. I have tried/am trying to build up muscle again, but it is just an extremely frustratingly slow process. I can only increase exercise by small, small increments and it is so easy to overdo it and then suffer for days after… not least of all electric cramping etc. at night. I got my 88 y.o. parents to drop the statins completely too (in dialog with their doctor). I took COQ10 while on the statins, the last 5 years… and have continued taking it. An alternative to statins? A healthy lifestyle. So simple and yet so difficult. But at least you might be able to walk in your senior years… something it looks like I won’t be able to do. Just devastating. Think about it.

    • Jerry

      I took a very low dose of atorvastatin 5mg daily for 3 years. I developed neuropathy in my feet, cataracts that prevent me from 20/20 with glasses, back pain, increased urination that I thought was due to blood pressure medicine which I still take and a general feeling of deadness in my legs. I stopped taking it and neuropathy is almost gone (still a tingling feeling along the bone that runs from the ankle to the big toe), sometimes sleep through the night wo urinating, back pain gone which also helps with sleep, my legs feel alive and connected and I feel quicker mentally too. Cataracts seem here to stay. My cholesterol was 220 but I believe my high blood pressure must have pushed me past some scientifically established risk level. I’m so happy I stopped taking the statin. These symptoms creeped up on me and since I was 51 when I started taking them I figured it was just natural aging. I don’t think that is true at all anymore.

  5. GINA

    I would like to read something on the new statin drug Pravastin. I am using it and it do not have the side effects of the other three.

    I would also like to know where I can get an up to date copy of your peoples pharmacy? I keep using it all the time. It is much more useful than what I find on the internet.

    thank you

    • Terry Graedon

      Pravastatin is not new, but it may have fewer side effects than some of the other statins.

      Sorry to say, we do not have an up-to-date edition of The People’s Pharmacy book.

  6. cpmt

    I would really like to know what to take that has not side effects? What about MEVACOR? Is it still for sale? Does it works? My doctor wants me to take Lipitor… after reading so many bad and serious side effects I am afraid to take it. He said I needed for my kidneys because I am diabetic. Does any one has any suggestions that I can take or do to protect my kidneys without taking something so dangerous? (statins) I don’t want to happen like it happened with the medications to prevent bone fractures and then they did exactly that… destroying the bones but the time they found out, thousand of people had serious problems. PLEASE HELP

    • Terry Graedon

      Mevacor is the brand name for lovastatin. It is still available, and your doctor might be willing for you to use it instead of Lipitor (atorvastatin). We know you like to do your own research. This article may be helpful, and you could share it with your doctor:

  7. Eleanor

    My husband developed motor neuron disease after taking Lipitor for 5 years… doctors need to take note. There are too many side affects when measured against a small benefit… WE NEED CHOLESTEROL FOR HEALTHY NERVE ENDINGS… IT KILLED HIS NERVE ENDINGS…

  8. Sharon

    I was given a statin (Prevastatin) even though I reminded my doctor of my non-alcoholic fatty liver issues. When it did not lower my cholesterol enough by the next annual physical, my doctor doubled the dose. I again reminded him of my non-alcoholic fatty liver issues–his response was, “Are you challenging my medical expertise? They are as harmless as an aspirin! Every doctor I know is taking them as a preventative!”

    He did not suggest that I come back for monitoring, so when my next annual came around, my numbers were alarmingly high–blood pressure at stroke levels, liver enzymes at serious levels, blood sugar levels brought me into pre-diabetes. As a cancer survivor, I feared my leiomyosarcoma was back and that I was dying. My (former) doctor was angry at ME, asking “What did you DO?”

    Of course, I changed doctors and my new doc calmed me down and indicated she knew what was wrong, told me never to take a statin, asked me to record blood sugar and pressure daily, and she monitored me monthly. Those numbers I could assess came down, down, down every day as did the numbers she assessed with more stringent labs. I believe she saved my life. I would never take a statin ever again and caution anyone reading this to carefully monitor blood pressure and sugar if prescribed statins.

    • Lynn

      Sharon, who was your doctor in FL who was so smart to tell you never to take a statin? We need more doctors like that.

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