Runner holding sore leg knee pain from running or exercising jogging injury or cramp

Q. I am 44 years old and took simvastatin for five years. I was very active and full of energy before taking simvastatin. Gradually, I lost strength in my body, especially in my left leg. I could hardly raise it to get out of a car or chair. I also began to have memory problems, muscle cramps, muscle twitching, and fatigue.

I went to the emergency room when I got so weak I could hardly walk. There was fear I might have multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease but the tests came back normal.

I was told to stay off simvastatin for 4 to 6 weeks. I have noticed huge changes in only two weeks. The fatigue has gone, I can walk again, my memory and concentration are improved, my strength has returned and my left leg is feeling better!

The neurologist does not think simvastatin could have caused these side effects but I am convinced it did. Are there alternative ways to lower cholesterol?

A. The pain and muscle weakness you experienced have been reported by hundreds of visitors to our website (PeoplesPharmacy.com). We have also heard from many people that statins can cause muscle twitching, fatigue, memory problems and ALS-like symptoms.

There are other ways to control cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Ask your doctor about drugs such as cholestyramine, niacin or aspirin. We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health with many nondrug approaches and a discussion of the other medications.

One reader shared this experience: “I have taken a number of different statins over the years and always had muscle pain. My doctor recently had me try cholestyramine. It seems to be working fine with no muscle pain. I am surprised it isn’t better known.”

Dale wrote: “I was on simvastatin for several years as were my daughter, son, sister and niece. We all developed severe pains of one sort or another. My doctor told me that he would not drain my knee anymore and that it was time for knee replacement surgery. My daughter was about to have carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists. She suspected simvastatin and and quit taking it. Two weeks later her symptoms were gone. I then quit taking it and my knee problems went away. I have been off of the drug for 5 years and no symptoms have returned. My son, sister and niece have all quit and have had the same results. It seems as if all of my gene pool are allergic to this drug.”

While statins are certainly appropriate for some people, if side effects appear, the benefit/risk ratio may be out of balance. It makes sense to keep evaluating whether a statin is necessary. These drugs are most effective for middle-aged men with heart disease or with multiple risk factors for a heart attack. 

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  1. Dennis
    uk
    Reply

    80 yrs old. Came off Statins 12mth ago after 10yrs of pain/pulled muscles. I now take supplement Co- Enzyme Q10 and exercise upper body, seems to work. I still have weakness round rib cage which wants to collapse when in bed,but I am not in pain. I was on 40mg of statins but never no more. Doctors dish Statins out like sweets and I am surprised how many people in this area have pain problems. I have regular check ups all ok.

  2. Richard
    Pennsylvania
    Reply

    I have been taking Atorvastatin (Lipitor) 10mg for a few months. Developed leg cramps and spasms during night. They would wake me up from sleeping. Stopped taking the med. At appt. with Dr. he said everyone gets muscle cramps. He said with my Cholesterol /triglyceride lelvels I need to be on it. He has to be careful with the meds he uses since I have had episodes of tachycardia. I developed leg spasms, pain, muscle weakness, my body feels totally exhausted, can’t lift my leg to get in my golf cart, tractor or do any type of work on our small farm. Everything says to discuss with Dr. before stopping it but with his comment during our last visit I’ve taken things into my own hands and stopped the med. Now I don’t know if I should expect side effects from curtailing the meds?

    • BillW
      Wisconsin
      Reply

      10 mg Atorvastatin per day is a very light dosage. Were you on it long enough to determine if your blood lipid profile had improved? Going off of a statin for a few weeks is unlikely to cause symptoms of its own, but long term your cholesterol and particularly the “bad” cholesterol will go back to its previous levels and your “good” cholesterol will as well.

      You should talk to your doctor about this and maybe try another statin. You may be just highly susceptible to side effects from Atorvastatin. Of course you may be sensitive to all statins, but I wouldn’t give up on the basis of experience with one. See my previous post. After two weeks off of Atorvastatin having been on it for two years my muscle pain has diminished somewhat, but still pretty annoying. I read that muscle pain usually clears up for most after a month off the drug, but some can take up to 6 months. Permanent muscle damage is extremely rare and a “CK” blood test will often be elevated in that case.

  3. BillW
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    Here’s what I know after many years and several doctors: People react differently to different statins. If one causes a problem, another can be tried. They can be dramatically effective in lowering overall cholesterol, lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol, as well as in actually reducing heart attack and stroke. There may be other benefits under investigation currently.

    Generalized aching muscles (affects people in different areas) is not that uncommon and can be severe. Reducing dosage can help, but there can be a trade off of course. It very rarely causes lasting damage. Blood tests to determine whether or not your muscle pain is due to your statin are NOT conclusive, although a test can sometimes determine if major muscle damage has been done.

    There are fat soluble and water soluble statins, as well as differences among the statins, in effectiveness and side effects that are very patient-dependent. Exercise and diet to improve blood lipid (fat) profiles can be very helpful in some, but not in all. A new VERY expensive injectable (once or twice per month) is available that produces a major improvement in blood cholesterol profiles, but long term effectiveness in preventing actual heart attack or stroke has not been proven nearly as much as has that of statins.

    My advice: consult a good preventive cardiologist if you have a family history of cardiac or arterial disease, or diminished blood flow-caused male erectile dysfunction (yep!) or have a bad cholesterol/blood lipid profile. Your G.P. may or may not have the best knowledge or experience to properly diagnose or treat you. Remember that a routine treadmill or ECG that comes back normal still has negligible value in predicting your likelihood of having a future heart attack or stroke. You need specialized tests or scans. Don’t settle.

  4. Mary
    Yorkshire
    Reply

    Stopped taking statins 2 days ago and can already feel the difference. Hardly any leg pains. Fantastic.

    • BillW
      Reply

      That’s great, Mary, but if your physician put you on statins, there’s a reason. Explore alternatives. You probably should not do nothing :)

  5. CLM
    Salt Lake City
    Reply

    I have been on Atorvastatin for at least 6 months and like many of you have muscle pain in legs, hips, knees, and thighs. It has become worse In the last 8 weeks suffering with pain so bad at night that I am getting very little sleep. A visit to my doctor to inform him of muscle pain and stiffness that has become severe..he assured me it was not the Statin, but at the end of my visit said I could go off the drug for 2 weeks. It has been 8 days since taking the drug and the last 2 days I can see improvement. I am excited to get back to my active life that I have always had. I am 72 and wish I would have never let my doctor talk me into taking the drug. I told him in the beginning I didn’t want to take it and learned the hard way. Also I have a son who is 43 and has been put on 2 different statins and has had muscle pain in his legs.

  6. Linda
    Reply

    Can you just stop taking statins 20mg each night?

    • Nancy
      Boise
      Reply

      I’m so furious! Why are Dr’s prescribing this? I can barely walk today, I hurt so bad everywhere, I couldn’t get any sleep because every time I needed to move it hurt so badly that I couldn’t stand it. I’m trying to work because I can’t take time off right now and it’s very difficult. I’m only 47yo. I’m seriously wondering if I have some serious damage…the area where my liver is aches and feels inflamed and my kidney’s have some damage that I was told was caused by diabetes. Oh, I am so angry!

    • BillW
      Reply

      Linda, your doctor is wrong. Statins absolutely can cause muscle pain, etc. But I urge you not to just let the subject drop because this particular statin caused you or your relative muscle pains. You should explore other options to improve your cholesterol profile, probably with a good preventive cardiologist, since your physician obviously hasn’t done his homework regarding statin side effects, and therefore likely doesn’t know the latest therapies either.

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