woman with lower back pain, back sore

Q. My doctor insists I must take statins to lower my cholesterol even though I experience pain with all of them. Sometimes the pain gets so bad that I struggle not to cry when I walk down the hall of my child’s school.

My doctor says I should accept what he calls “a little discomfort” because studies show statins reduce heart disease. He gets angry if I refuse to take them.

Who is ultimately responsible for my health, me or my doctor? He says this pain is rare but I know a lot of people who have had the same severe muscle pain.

A. We too have heard from many patients who experience debilitating muscle pain as a side effect of statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs. One reader wrote:

“I have had problems with Lipitor and Vytorin. I had severe muscle and nerve pain. My doctor said he didn’t believe it was from Vytorin. I stopped the medication and slowly got better. It took 7 weeks.”

Some doctors don’t believe that statins can cause side effects such as muscle or joint pain or memory problems. Others have seen so many cases they have developed different strategies for lowering cholesterol. If your doctor isn’t taking your complaint seriously, you may need to see another doctor.

You may wish to read our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health for more information on the pros and cons of statins and data on non-drug approaches to optimizing cardiac well-being.

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  1. CHAR G
    South, sunny,now wet AZ

    I want to thank all of you that have posted. It is great to have a site,like this, to show that you are not alone. I have many of the similar problems. I recently had a heart attack and they put me on a statin drug, 5 weeks ago. I now have more problems than I had before. I know,in my heart,that it is because of the statin drug(LIPITOR). I now have pain and skin touch sensitivity in my upper torso. It is extremely difficult to walk or even move. All I want to do is lay in bed, because I don’t hurt as much. But I know I must keep moving.
    I saw my GP,and he agreed. I should stop taking LIPITOR. I have also started taking UBIQUINOL(COQ10). Thru the internet,I learned, statin drugs, reduce the naturally occurring COQ10 in the body,which is NOT good, (LOVE THE INTERNET.) I am 77, and I want to stay active. I am too young to give up.

  2. KWilson

    MSW –
    My symptoms are very similar to yours. I only took Lipitor for a couple weeks and am having problems. Have your pain and symptoms ever gone away?

  3. MK

    Have been off 10 mg of Lipitor for over a year now. Developed a “faux carpal tunnel syndrome” in both wrists and hands. Previously had “faux fibromyalgia” with Prevachol and told doctor I was afraid to begin even a low dose regimen of Lipitor. He told me “Oh, it’s such a small dose and you’ll know in three days if it’s a problem.” Long story short, first severe allergic reaction was flu symptoms, a week later, hives and red splotches and horrid face swelling, then the “carpal tunnel” started like a lightning bolt and became so severe I thought I would need morphine to take pain away. 80 mgs. of prednisone a day finally allowed me to sleep at night.
    I began reading on this website and realized that I had had a severe allergic reaction to Lipitor. I would rather be at risk of heart attack that feel that horrid ever again. Taking COQ10, fish oil, eating and drinking healthy and walking. Still do not have feeling back in fingers of one hand and have some nighttime throbbing. Neurologist says I DO have carpal tunnel in both hands and won’t believe me that it came on with statin drug reaction. Seems ridiculous to have surgery for this. Just maintaining healthy lifestyle, praying and hoping there has not been permanent nerve damage. Encouraging family and friends to NOT take statins to lower cholesterol. Grateful for this website so I didn’t lose my mind going through this frightening experience.

  4. Girfriend

    My dear man started to take 40mg of simvastatin and our relaxed, peaceful nights are over not because of sex but his legs hurt so much, the right one more than the left. I decided to massage his legs getting relive also walking helped the pain go away. What is a better solution? We have a great super healthy eating habits but he got the genes!!!

  5. BRL

    I’ve been On simvastatin for about 5 years and now lovastain for about a year. the cramps, leg, rib and joint pain were absurd and ignored by my doc. At night it was impossible to sleep with the cramping. I finally had enough and stopped completely with statins. About 5 days into the cramps subsided, not only that my energy started coming back and i feel better emotionally as well as in my body. I’m now taking cholestrol off, no known side effects, as a replacement therapy, walking more and watching my diet. Doctor need to get educated to just how dangerous statins can become.

  6. Viv.

    My son is getting wed mid next year and I want to wear a dress, BUT I have a ripped a muscle 6 months ago on my inner left leg ABOVE THE ANKLE which followed a bad cramp, I believe it came from lipitor Now I have bad muscle wastage on that leg, PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO REBUILD THIS MUSCLE IF THAT IS POSSIBLE?? (Will on July 23rd 2008 made comment of a ripped muscle he had the same experience as me. HELP HELP ME PLEASE IF POSSIBLE.

  7. Viv.

    Yes I am the same my left muscle ripped NOW I am left with a thinner ankle (I am a lady) it is not nice when a dress I take atorvastatin 40mg, I’m stopping from tonight, and I hope that I can rebuild the muscle. CAN ANY TELL ME HOW I CAN REBUILD THE MUSCLE IN THE LOWER INNER LEFT LEG??????????????

  8. LM

    Dr Oz did a show on Cholesterol this past week. Dr. Stephen Sinatra and Johnny Bowden were the guests who have written a book called The Great Cholesterol myth. In a nutshell, they basically feel that statin drugs are poison that can cause both cancer and diabetes. And most of us here know about the horrible muscle problems they can induce. In addition they shared that cholesterol is not a bad thing and introduced the “shocking” idea that the higher the cholesterol the better off you are. I think maybe we should check out this book!!!

  9. DB

    I stopped taking statins in March of 2011 after my Dr. finally decided to listen to me about my pains and ran a CK level test and found that the range was over 1400 (normal maximum range for CK is 200). Since March of 2011 my CK levels have risen to 2213 *blood test in 9/2012. I am due for another blood test tomorrow. I’ve had multiple tests run and doctors diagnosed me with unspecified inflammatory myopathy.
    I am only taking vitamin supplements now but Dr. said if my CK levels go up to 5000 he will have to put me on prednisone (which can cause other issues). I feel certain that the use of statins did this to my body but I cannot find an attorney who will take my case because of the diagnosis I was given. The lawyer who had my file for a year told me it’s just too hard to prove that the statins did this but with so many people experiencing the same or similar symptoms I just don’t understand why an attorney wouldn’t take the case.
    Now I’m left with permanent muscle deterioration along with exorbitant medical bills (in excess of what my health insurance paid). It’s just not fair. I am saving my medical files for my children so that perhaps in the future (regardless of the statute) of limitations, they may possible due the drug companies and the doctors who did this to me if I should die from it or become unable to walk.
    I don’t trust the doctors, lawyers or the drug companies now. It’s a money making business and they don’t seem to care about the patients that are being affected by it. I’m taking ubiquinol which is a form of COQ10; garlic pills for cholesterol; Omega 3 Krill oil pills also for cholesterol; Resveratrol (supplement from grapes); low dose aspirin; and B-complex daily. That’s all I will take now. It’s very strange that sometimes I feel better for a while and then suddenly I will feel pain all over my body for anywhere from 3 to 7 days straight, then I feel better again. It comes and goes but the CK levels are going up instead of down and I’m very worried. Please pray for me. Thank you.

  10. CJ

    Hi Everyone. As promised I have come back to you after discussing my blood results with my GP.
    My CK (the main indicator for muscle damage) is slightly raised. Everything else is pretty much normal, and, in the absence of any evidence suggesting arthritic/rheumatic problems, my GP agrees with me that this is statin induced myopathy.
    Now, I know that I am fortunate to have a GP who knows me well and who I know well and trust. He is open to patients thoughts and ideas and listens to what is being said. Many of you seem to be less fortunate.
    My GP hasn’t and won’t even try to persuade me to take another statin…. for now we take care of the pain, monitor things closely and after Christmas do blood tests again. Meantime he has advised me to commence some gentle short walks for exercise. My cholesterol level has risen to 5.5 (UK values), but neither the doctor nor I am concerned about this. 20 years ago in this country, 5.2 was the magic number, but over the years, that has gone down to 4.2. Frankly I don’t think anyone really knows what the optimal figure should be, and what is normal in one person, could be abnormal for another.
    I will continue to take my COQ10, and do all I can to try to help myself. I am relieved that my GP has been truthful and has accepted what are the facts and that Simvastatin is responsible for my symptoms.
    Please take care everyone. I will keep you all posted on my progress, for there may be something I find which could help you. To the owners of this site, thank you!! Thank you for making it possible for us to voice our thoughts frustrations and ideas here.
    I wish everyone a wonderful Xmas and a better New Year.

  11. SMB

    I must say I am flabbergasted to find how little the Drs. seem to recognize the side effects of these drugs. I was a seemingly healthy 53 year old women. I did avoid Dr. checkups and maintenance since I was very active and could move around like an ox. To my surprise I woke up in a hospital cardiac unit with a 5 way by pass heart surgery. The surgeons reassured me that in a few short weeks I’d feel like I was 30 years old again and healthy and active.
    I was recovering fine and steady and had hoped to be back at work as promised. Prior to the hospital I had never taken any prescription drugs. I was put on aspirin, insulin, and Lipitor. My Lipitor was increased to 20mg at my first pre op visit. No one took any tests to check my blood or cholesterol. By the 3rd month after surgery I was no longer able to walk for any distance without hunched over pain and limping like a crippled person. My head was all fuzzy and I felt like I was living outside of myself, not connected and feeling like so many here have said “like I was 90 years old”.
    My Dr did tests for PAD in my leg veins and was attributing that to my present condition. He knew I was taking Lipitor but never even considered that. They had me convinced that there was no remedy and I imagined if it was going to continue getting worst at the same rate I will certainly be no longer able to walk at in the very near future. It wasn’t until my hair started falling out at an extreme rate that I once again started searching for the side effects of the drug. What an eye opening experience this has been.
    I have a appointment in 2 days with the Dr. to discuss the results of a ultrasound on my legs. I have stopped taking the statin. I refused to be talked into taking anything else. I would rather live a shorter, enjoyed life than live longer in hell. Heck, I’ve already died and come back!
    My initial reason for this response was to question that at the additional medical treatments with the PT and the chiropractor — none of them noted what meds you were on or questioned that? No wonder I stayed away from the Drs for so long. Think I’m gonna tattoo a big “Do Not Resuscitate” above my heart surgery scar and hope for the best.
    thanks for letting me get that off my chest…. susan.

  12. CJ

    Hi Everyone. My doctor placed me on Simvastatin just over a year ago. My cholesterol tests had come back consistently high, despite my careful diet and exercise. He told me to stop taking them immediately if I developed any muscle type pains. He did liver function tests etc before I commenced taking the pills. All was normal.
    Everything was fine for several months. Meantime I joined the gym and did some moderate resistance training and some aerobic work (mostly on running machine for approx 30 minutes.) I felt good!! (I am 61 years old).
    Two months ago I developed excruciating pain in one foot, to the point I couldn’t place the foot on the floor for a couple of days. At first I thought perhaps my gym work was responsible,but I only ever used the running machine for brisk walking never running and only for 20 to 30 minutes. Then I noticed tingling in my toes and fingers and an occasional burning sensation in them too.
    Over the last 8 weeks, I have experienced debilitating pain in both arms and shoulders (separately), to the point I have been unable to raise them. Excruciating pains in my feet, knees and calves. The pain is never consistent and can be in a different limb/muscle each day.
    I stopped the gym and tried to take up my previous exercise of walking… 10,000 steps every couple of days. I paid dearly for this by suffering horrible pain. I tried shortening my walks, knowing that normally a little gentle exercise will help with pain. All to no avail.
    I was aware of the potential side effects of simvastatin, but perhaps naively thought that since I developed no symptoms shortly after commencing taking it, that all was well. I of course now, after doing a good deal of research, know that statins are not something I ever want or should take again.
    I stopped them a couple of weeks ago, with a minor difference in my pain levels, but I still wake in the morning wondering which limb or part of my body will hurt that day.
    My GP has ordered all the usual blood tests and I am now waiting to see what the results are and agrees I did the right thing coming off the simvastatin.
    I will, having seen some of you have found COQ10 helpful, take some. I will come back here with my blood results later this week and any conclusions that may or may not be drawn from them. Meantime, hang in there everyone……

  13. DS

    Donna, sorry to hear you are still having muscle pain, discouraging. I have not been tested for muscle damage yet but I know my legs feel weak and heavy. My pain may to related to a back problem but I want to test my statin theory. I have lived with back pain on/off for many years but the muscle pain is new to me and debilitating. I’ll continue with my statin trial and see how it plays out, I need to try something. It really annoys me because I have complained to my Dr. numerous times and my concerns were fluffed off. He is a “Top Doc” too – go figure, very disappointing that Lipitor side effects were never mentioned to me. Glad I’m doing my own research. Hang in there, I hope you find an answer.

  14. Donna B.

    I hate to tell you this but I stopped taking statins in March of 2011 and my muscles are still hurting. My creatine kinase levels have risen to 2213 now. Normal maximum range for Creatine kinase is 215.
    Dr. said if they go up to 5000 he will have to put me on prednisone, which causes other issues. Creatine kinase shows that there is muscle damage. I haven’t taken anything since 3/11 and still this is happening. Other things that happened were short term memory loss, hair thinning, joint and muscle pain, fingernails were pulling away from the nail beds at the tips (turned white from the tips to the middle of the fingers).
    Hair is getting better and nails are better but the muscles and joints still hurt but it comes and goes.
    I’ve had MRI’s; EMG; multiple blood tests, deep muscle biopsy, chiropractic and still no diagnosis other than “unspecified inflammatory myopathy”.
    Lawyers won’t take my case because they say it’s too hard to prove that the statin drugs did this to me and yet there is no diagnosis of disease. Go figure!

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