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 muscle pain and 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. Cat
    kentucky
    Reply

    I was on Crestor when my new insurance said they wanted me on Simvastatin. Been on it for 2 months and the past two mornings I am waking up fine until I put my right leg on the floor… I am immediately in so much pain in the fetal position on the floor. I am having a severe pain in the back of my thigh which radiates to the back of my knee. I try to straighten my leg but the cramp starts again. As long as I don’t move I’m fine. It frightens my teenage kids because I scream and cry in so much pain. This goes on for about 30 minutes until I can finally straighten it out so that I can walk around the house. After that, it goes away and doesn’t come back until the following morning when I stand up… I am not going to take my Simvastatin anymore to see if it goes away. My potassium level is normal, I drink plenty of water and drink coconut water take an extra potassium and magnesium. I am sleeping on my back with my legs elevated and using a heat pad before I stand up. I am scared to wake up in the morning for fear it will cramp up again…

  2. ahmad
    plymouth
    Reply

    All comments were very useful. Thanks.

  3. Jan
    Reply

    I am a previously active female of 63. I was put on simvastatin for supposedly high cholesterol which I have since found out was just borderline. The dosage was 5mgs per day. After experiencing horrendous pain in my joints and muscles I decided to take myself off the drug after just 28 days. Along with this, the PA also gave me Metformin and a natural thyroid as my thyroid was under active.
    Having NEVER taken medications before, the side effects were violent. I have been off the drug now for 4 weeks but still suffering the severe debilitating pains, unable to get out of bed but better after movement. I am experiencing pains where I’ve never had pains before: hips shoulders, elbows and increased knee and foot pain. Sleep is minimal, anything from 2-4 hours per night. How long does it take for the pains to go after stopping the drug?
    Thanks so much for this forum.

  4. SKS
    Reply

    Somewhere on People’s Pharmacy I’ve read that dark chocolate helps lower Cholesterol – but now I cannot find it (I’ve looked under chocolate & cholesterol) I just want to know how much to eat. I stopped taking Lipitor 6 or 7 weeks ago and my leg pain is totally gone. My physical is due mid October so I won’t know till then what the count is now. I plan to find the book talked about above.
    People’s Pharmacy response: Here are a few links that might be of interest. There’s not much on the proper dose, though. Some studies show that as little as 5 grams of dark chocolate (about the size of a postage stamp) every day can help over the long term.
    Some of the research used 100g of dark chocolate a day to get the effect of raising HDL and (slightly) lowering LDL. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/119/10/1433.long
    That is a lot of chocolate, though.
    Mars Botanical has done research showing that 250 mg of cocoa flavanols daily can help with blood pressure.
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2012/05/14/is-chocolate-health-food-now/
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2013/05/27/chocolate-benefits-without-excess-calories/
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2012/05/14/cocoa-mocha-offers-benefits/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15454274

  5. Barbara Handler
    Reply

    Thanks for the comments! I haven’t been able to dance for years because of the weakness in my leg and glut muscles. I am definitely stopping the statin today and seeing if it makes a difference when I attend my 50th (!!!) high school reunion in a week. It would be so nice to dance again.

  6. hjl
    Reply

    Totally agree with Andrew’s last post. Read “The Cholesterol Myth” which documents this in a readable manner. Moreover as to men, the only proven benefit is to middle age men who have a prior documented heart incident. Old people should not be on statins and a total cholesterol less than 220 for old people correlates to higher death. Restated it is healthier for old people to have total cholesterol above 220 if they want to live.

  7. crandreww
    Reply

    @ Barbara…not sure if you know the FACT that NEVER has ANY STATIN STUDY shown Statins to be of ANY benefit to a female of ANY AGE..Never, Nada, Zero…I hate to see so many patients pushed into taking these POISONS, for at most a 3% chance of not having a heart attack…yes, the best any study has ever shown is a 3% Absolute risk reduction (Men, NOT WOMEN). NO PROOF has ever been shown that Cholesterol in and of itself is the cause of heart disease..Cholesterol is almost as essential of an element as Oxygen. It is ESSENTIAL, which is why we make it. Blocking cholesterol by statins, is DANGEROUS! IN doing so, we also block Vitamin D, Testosterone, Steroid hormones, Dolochols, Ubiqionol(COQ10) and about 200 other equally essential substances. I do not want to see people becoming patients, all for the love of the almighty $$…

  8. Barbara Handler
    Reply

    By the way, my doctor had never heard of Garcinia so she wasn’t much help and wanted to stay on the drug.

  9. Barbara Handler
    Reply

    I have been taking a statin (Atorvastatin) for 6-7 years to control my cholesterol. I have also experienced weakness in my legs but thought it had to do with stenosis. Now I wonder if it is related to taking this statin. I am a 68 year old woman, 5 feet tall,and weigh 180 lbs. I can’t do a l to of exercise because of arthritis and back problems, but now that I’m retired, have joined a gym and am starting water aerobics. In addition to altering my diet (finally), I’d like to try Garcinia Gambogia ( a natural plant extract) to help with weight loss, but everything I’ve read, says you should not take this if you are taking a statin. Would there be any negative side effects if I stopped the statin in order to try the Garcinia Gambogia, which is touted as also lowering cholesterol? Anybody in the same boat? After being on the statin for so long, would it be harmful to just stop cold turkey? Thanks!

  10. Susan
    Reply

    My husband took Lipitor for about 5 years and for most of that time, was in a great deal of pain when walking. He tried dozens of different types of shoes, orthotics and treatments to no avail. It was like walking with stress fractures in his heels. Then he started having trouble in his elbow. Went thru cortizone shots for a couple of years and then had to stop as he had reached his limit. Dr. was ready to do surgery but as a last resort, recommended physical therapy.
    During the PT he began talking to colleagues about his pains and several of them had experiences similar and all were on LIPITOR. At one PT session, the therapist said his muscles were so tight she couldn’t do anything (said the sheath was ready to rupture) and asked if he was on any statins. When he said yes, she advised he visit his dr and get off the Liptor. He did and within days was 100’s of times better. After 30 days, he was put on another statin and the pain returned. Now he does not take any statins and warns others of their danger.
    He was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during this time and has had cataracts removed also. Since he has stopped taking any statins, he is basically pain free and can wear any type of shoe he wants and plays raquetball & pickle ball twice a week which he wouldn’t have been able to do with his foot pain, He can even ride his bike pain free which he couldn’t do before.
    It’s amazing to me that these drug that are suppose to help you, can cause so much damage and drs. don’t tell you about it. His dr. said he the muscle pain was a minor side affect. BS!! It was life altering, expensive and totally avoidable.
    ALL DRUG ADS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED ON TV OR ANYWHERE The cure is sometimes more dangerous than the malady they are prescribed for.

  11. Trish
    Reply

    A 2009 study published in Pharmacotherapy reported this: 3 out of 4 people using statin-lowering drugs had adverse cognitive effects that were “probably or definitely related to” the drugs. Also the study reported that within one week of stopping the drugs, the symptoms had mostly abated. The evidence seems pretty clear. These drugs bring on dementia.
    If your doctor is recommending Simvastatin or Lovastatin, insist that he/she respond to the results of this study. Doctors are still pushing these medications, without adequately warning patients of the profoundly serious risks involved with taking them.

  12. crandreww
    Reply

    @ Patricia as someone who suffered and is suffering with Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy with Lactic Acidosis and Stroke-Like Episodes (MELAS) I would love to share the information I have collected over the past nearly 11 years, send me an email to crandreww1999@yahoo.com and I will share with you the info I have…

  13. Patricia
    Reply

    I was very interested to see the article about simvastatin in today’s paper. I too had taken a statin for high cholesterol for several years. I was experiencing knee joint pain but I attributed it to playing tennis. I also experienced fatigue so I asked my Doctor to check my thyroid levels and they came back negative. It was not discussed that statins could be factor.
    Later, my muscle weakness progressed- so that to even to hold up a hair blow dryer to blow dry my hair was difficult. Around this time,I heard a t.v. commercial about the side effects of statins. I went in to see my Doctor and asked to be taken off the statin. She wanted to try a different one. I wanted to be off statins all together.
    Once off the statins, my fatigue was diminished and my muscle strength mostly returned. My knee joint pain was lessened for awhile. I did have moderate OA in my knee joints and it has progressed to severe OA. I am not sure if the muscle weakness from taking statins contributed to the joint damage.
    I am concerned if the statins caused permanent damage to my muscles. It has been suggested that I am a candidate for knee joint replacements. I am concerned if the statins caused permanent damage to my muscles- and if so, would that impact my recovery in function if I have the knee joint surgery.
    Is there a way to test for the level of muscle function? I try to warn others of the side effects of statins. Make sure your family members know as well. I found out much later that my mother had also had a negative reaction to statins. I appreciate this forum. It validates my experience with statins.

  14. Trish
    Reply

    The person who wrote that there is no test for ALS is confused. She may be mixing Alzheimer’s Disease with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. For years, there has been a reliable clinical test for ALS. I hope that someone who has severe muscle loss and other motor degeneration, and who thinks he/she may have ALS, will get tested.
    I would really like to see Lipitor and Simvastatin taken off market.
    I have no proof, but I am convinced that taking Simvastatin, in conjunction with blood-pressure lowering drugs, has aggravated my mother’s dementia. When I finally took her off those medications, I was shocked to see how much more she is enjoying life.

  15. Abigail
    Reply

    I am very interested in the relationship between statins and mitochondrial changes. As a reader of Peoples Pharmacy I have been adamant in my refusal to go on statins. I have fibromyalgia. Muscle stiffness is already a problem when I overdo. Mitochondria have something to do with oxygen uptake in our cells. With fibromyalgia this is inadequate.
    Thank you for sending in this information. I will use natural methods from Peoples Pharmacy to keep cholesterol under control.

  16. CAK
    Reply

    Those having problems with statins might want to read the book THE GREAT CHOLESTEROL MYTH: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease by Dr Stephen Sinatra and nutritionist Johnny Bowden.

  17. crandreww
    Reply

    @44 years old and took simvastatin for five years
    I was on Lipitor (ALL STATINS WORK THE EXACT SAME WAY) for 3.5 years. I was 34 years old, a newly married RN, with a 2 year old son at home. I became SEVERELY ILL, was hospitalized for 28 days, I was like a patient with Alzheimers disease, Confused, Unable to speak coherently, unable to walk, I wet and soiled myself. Brain biopsy of one of the several dozen lesions on my brain, revealed a Mitochondrial DNA mutation, as well as holes in my brain, called Neuronal Apoptosis, the Neurons were killing themselves, It will be 11 years on Nov 7, that I was discharged from the hospital. I enrolled in the UCSD Statin Effects Study, led by Dr Beatrice Golomb…who opined that my use of Lipitor was the likely causal contributor to the Mitochondrial DNA mutations, as well as the holes in my brain.
    I can tell you one thing for certain, the very SMALL Chance that a Statin will prevent a heart attack, is NOT WORTH THE PAST 11 YEARS of pain and suffering! If your provider wants you to try another statin, RUN and find a new doc who knows the necessity of cholesterol in the human body.

  18. MS
    Reply

    I started taking 500 mg. of niacin per day (the flushing kind) to raise my HDL and also for inflammation. After trying this for 3 months, I had my blood work done, and my HDL was THE highest it’s ever been in my life — 126! My doctor was astounded, since I’ve always had low numbers. My regimen also included B-complex, since you don’t want to get out of balance with the other B vitamins.
    My husband had similar results, even though he took Niaspan ages ago (no results). Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra takes niacin himself. What I’ve read is that when the flushing occurs, that’s an excellent sign that the vitamin is doing its work.

  19. HB
    Reply

    I took Zocor —the generic one of course–and I can say it caused me more health problems than I needed—those drugs are life savers for some people, but it surely wasn’t for me—I had severe pain in my knees, hips etc. and was so fatigued I could hardly function as a person —-my Doctor said it doesn’t cause joint pain, but I beg to differ with him –because after I started on that awful drug I started with joint pains and had a very difficult time walking and it was painful all the time –and I experimented on my own—went off that stuff and my joint pain went away —what I have read as I searched these statins is they do cause muscle pain etc. But they also cause JOINT pain as it says on my label that I got from my pharmacy!!! I think we are all over medicated – we have a tendency to accept taking a “pill” makes it better when indeed it can make things worse—we have to try natural before we go to DRUGS.
    I have been fortunate that I don’t have to take meds for blood pressure etc. I only take one Drug and that is Synthroid for Thyroid problem and I pray that it stays that way!
    I remember when Cholesterol was normal at 250 -then all of a sudden they lowered it to 200—–we need cholesterol in our body to function and I would like to know who did the research that dropped it down to 200—-We have too many discrepancies in this number and some one has to get it right so people do not have to take these awful meds—the pharmaceutical companies are making big bucks on meds and I mean BIG! Someone needs to challenge these medications big time. Someone has to challenge that number 200 for Cholesterol the whole population will soon be on Statins–not a good thing.
    Appreciate being able to voice my thoughts—I am just totally against Cholesterol Medications —–PERIOD—-that’s it.
    Some may need it but you have to diligent about your body and health. It pays to be questionable with your Doctor about any prescription medications. I am one of these questionable people!
    You all stay healthy, God Bless
    HB

  20. hjl
    Reply

    The fundamental question is whether you should be on a statin. Many docs now think that only men who have had a heart incident should be on statins and only during during middle age. Many think they are totally useless for women.
    Some think the benefit of a statin has nothing to do with cholesterol but with its anti inflammatory effect. Total cholesterol below 220 is associated with higher death rates. Many think the docs have been sold a bill of goods. If you have symptoms then everything changes. If you are asymptomatic why take something that could be very harmful?

  21. Virginia Graves
    Reply

    How did they know she didn’t have ALS. To my knowledge there is no test for that disease until you die.

  22. paul
    Reply

    I also had Memory loss with Simvastatin.

  23. jim a.
    Reply

    I was taking Lipitor, (now Atorvastatin, the generic name). I noticed that my muscles were disappearing so i quit the drug as an experiment. Another 2 months and I will go in for a cholesterol test to see if it was really doing all that much for me… cholesterol wise, that is.
    I’ve also twice come down with wracking muscle muscle pains and headaches — which I could deal with myself, since I’m a massage therapist and I work on trigger points. Still, a couple nights ago, it took 12 hours of self treatment — really working myself over — before I could disappear the pains and return to being the normal relaxed me. Tho, I slept long into the next day which I could do since I’m now 73 and mostly retired/
    I do take CoQ10 daily (which I believe is one of the suggestions in your Guide to Cholesterol Control…) and this seems to diminish the symptoms on a longer term basis

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