A female doctor talking with an older male patient

When the very first statin-type cholesterol-lowering drug was approved by the FDA in July, 1987 there was great excitement. Lovastatin (Mevacor) was perceived as a magic bullet for lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart attacks. Within a short time Mevacor became the most prescribed anti-cholesterol drug in the country. Doctors perceived it as highly effective and well tolerated with few serious side effects.

Despite initial enthusiasm there were a few concerns. Doctors were told by the manufacturer that Mevacor might raise liver enzymes and increase the risk for cataracts. The official prescribing information noted that dogs treated with Mevacor developed cataracts and “There was a high prevalence of baseline lenticular opacities in the patient population included in the early clinical trials with lovastatin.” In other words, there was acknowledgment that clouding of the lens suggestive of cataracts occurred during the early human tests of statins.

As a result of these discoveries, liver function tests were supposed to be performed before treatment started and then every month of two thereafter for at least a year. Eye exams were recommended early in treatment and annually thereafter.

The incredible success of Mevacor led to the development of many other statin-type drugs including:

  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Lovastatin extended-release (Altoprev)
  • Lovastatin + Niacin (Advicor)
  • Pitavastatin (Livalo)
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Simvastatin + Niacin (Simcor)
  • Simvastatin + Ezetimibe (Vytorin)

Over the course of 25 years statins have become the most successful drugs in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. Tens of millions of Americans were put on drugs like Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor. Physicians became convinced that these medications were essential for good health and carried very little risk. There were few reports of liver problems, so regular testing dropped by the wayside, as did the fear that the drugs could cause cataracts. We suspect that relatively few patients were warned that they needed to get eye exams regularly and be on guard against cataracts.

We first got wind of the emerging cataract problem in an epidemiological study published in the journal BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) on May 20, 2010. Over 225,000 new statin users from England and Wales were tracked for several years. The investigators noted an increased risk for muscle pain, moderate to serious liver problems and cataracts:

“The time varying analyses showed the risk [of cataracts] was significantly increased within a year of starting statins, persisted during treatment, and returned to normal within the first year after stopping treatment.”

Although we thought this was a pretty dramatic discovery, it didn’t get much media or medical attention. But now a new study has confirmed that cataracts are associated with statin use (Optometry and Vision Science, Aug. 2012). Canadian researchers studied over 6,000 patients who visited an optometry clinic. Diabetic patients who took statins were at significantly greater risk for developing cataracts than those who did not take statins. The investigators point out that the lens of the eye requires cholesterol for proper cell development and lens transparency.

Patients with diabetes are frequently prescribed statins to prevent cardiovascular complications of their disease such as heart attacks and strokes. But here is another boomerang: statins themselves may substantially increase the risk for diabetes.

A new study in The Lancet (Aug. 11, 2012) confirms what many people were already beginning to suspect. Those with prediabetes are at especially high risk for developing full-blown diabetes if they are prescribed statins. The investigators were quick to point out that the cardiovascular benefits of statins outweigh the hazards of diabetes. That may be, but when a drug causes a condition (like diabetes) that can have such devastating health consequences, we have to ask whether the ends justify the means.

Visitors to this website have been reporting problems with statins since long before the researchers turned up proof. Here are just a few comments.

“Within about a month of starting Crestor at 5 mg, I had calf pain on a consistent basis. And in the same time frame, I was diagnosed as diabetic — not a great surprise because I was a likely candidate with a history of gestational diabetes and hypoglycemia — but I had not tipped into the actual diabetes category until after I took a statin.

“The calf pain disappeared shortly after I stopped the statin, but the diabetes remained.” -Dallee

“I started out with Questran in the 1980s, moving on first to Mevacor and then to Lipitor in the 1990s. I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1989 when a urine specimen showed high sugars and a 24 hr urine analysis revealed kidney disease. Now after some 20 years of statins and well controlled diabetes (A1C 6.1 this January) I have peripheral neuropathy in both feet. I’m also aware of fuzzy cognitive thinking and loss of vocabulary.

“I’m having surgery on a lumpy tendon sheath in my left thumb next week. It never occurred to me that statins had anything to do with any of these things, but now I’m wondering. In 2007 I had a cardiac syndrome episode with no damage, but a narrowed LAD coronary artery. Both my GP and my cardiologist are big Lipitor fans. I’m 80 years old and realize that decline is inevitable, but not decline caused by a medication!” -Cottonmouth

“I have been prescribed Flonase but never have used it much, which is good, given this possible problem with cataracts. However, I have been using Lipitor for about 10 years now. About 2 years ago I was told that I have a cataract starting in my left eye; however, I am 64 and I imagine that cataracts starting at my age are not uncommon.” -Chuck

And that pretty much sums up the statin dilemma. People who are diagnosed with cataracts or diabetes in their fifties or sixties are frequently told that they “are just getting older.” With age comes chronic health problems like muscle aches and pain, diabetes and cataracts. What people may not be told is that atorvastatin or simvastatin (or any other statin) might be contributing to those aches and pains, elevated blood sugars or cataracts.

We recognize that many people benefit from statins, especially those who have had a heart attack or a stent placed in a coronary artery. But the benefits of statins for what is called primary prevention are now highly controversial. When a medicine that is supposed to prevent chronic health problems down the road actually contributes to them, we get concerned.

We welcome your comments below. Share your story about statins. We want to hear the pros as well as the cons.

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  1. SuzyQ
    North Carolina

    I was put on 40mg Lipitor in 1992 by 1997 I had developed full blown diabetes. No mention from doctor about connection between statin drug and diabetes. Remained on 80mg of Lipitor then in 2004 was told I had a small cataract in both my eyes but was not ready for surgery. By 2007 when I could not see to drive at night or see to read I was told I had cataracts in both eyes that were “ripe” and had surgery to have them removed. I have since stopped taking statin drug (my choice) due to problems walking and other muscular problems. I took my health in my own hands and have lowered my cholesterol and blood sugars by following a low carb diet and daily exercise, my health is the best it’s been in 20 years.

  2. Janet

    The doctor insisted I should take statins after I started to take them had chest pains 7 days after starting to take Statins and on 10th day nearly called the local hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack, I did not take any statins for about 6 weeks then took one no reaction. On second day I had a very severe reaction to statins and have refused to take any since.

  3. Robin

    After HER2+ breast cancer in 2003: collapsed backbone due to radiation for tumours in backbone in 2005 then heart attacks – 2013 and 2015 (four stents later) I was put on 80mg dose (yes!) in 2013 to ‘lower my cholesterol ‘ in 2013 after 1st heart attack – I was told, I would “not have another attack” well guess what, 2015 came along and despite the huge daily dose of Atorvastatin I did have another attack! After feeling really ghastly (altho I am 76 I never felt old ’till then) with hot/cold pains in legs and inability to walk at times, decided to ditch all meds (including blood thinners and of course the statins) I have been off them for 5 months and starting to feel ‘normal’ – veg diet of 25 years, meditation, CoQ10, some B12 when needed, Vitamin D3 and selenium, keeping up with very heavy gym sessions, plus 6 years of remedial massage each week to sort out my collapsed backbone (due to radiation to ‘fix’ my cancer in the backbone) am starting to walk normally and getting rid of ‘widows hump’ which has taken a long time.

    Ah, the medical profession! All my blood tests, prior to, during and after the cancers and the heart attacks had been “amazing” according to the doctors, my cholesterol has always been “very high” and I have extremely low blood pressure (due I suspect to 2 and a half hours meditation daily which lowers metabolism ) BUT I was under extreme stress during the time these events occurred – nothing else – so now it seems more attention is being paid to the number of people who have no prior indications but stress – not even genetic dispositions. Life is great!!!

  4. Wendy
    Worcestershire UK

    I only started on Statins about 6-weeks ago. Since then I’ve had a headache and dizziness and feel sick. I suffer with my hip and knee anyway but a week ago I found I could hardly get out of bed and can barely hobble around. The pain in my butt, legs, back and arms is indescribable and I just feel if this is it why bother. Have been back to doctor who said to stop taking them and as I have never had a heart condition anyway they might be irrelevant. So I shall stop taking them from today and hope this awful pain goes away. Can not believe that a tablet could do this to the body!!

  5. Alan

    I started stations several years ago, simply because the Dr. said cholesterol was a ‘little’ high. OK.
    Never cautioned to report anything about muscle pain or any other possible side effects. Since then, I have seen at least a dozen other MD’s and none mentioned side effects to watch for. About a year ago, I lost complete control of my legs for 6 days and stayed in the hospital until the effects of stations wore off. I was fortunate it was temporary. Afterwards, the MD still wanted me to take stations at a lower dose and sent me to a Dr of Pharmacology to review my meds and suggest another stating strategy. Ok. Tried a reduced dose of different brand. Muscle pain started and was reduced again. Can not feel part of my left foot and left hand fingers are tingling and less feeling in fingers.
    I had a cardio Dr look into to my heart (through leg artery) and two different tests showed no buildup of anything. Perfectly clean. Cholesterol had not ever accumulated there (or anywhere else as ‘plaque’.
    They keep saying take it. I am now convinced that although stations reduce cholesterol, the epidemic of prescriptions as almost solely due to the extreme profitability of this drug. I do not know if the producers of stations ‘paid off’ or otherwise provided phony data to the FDA to keep these in the top drug spot, but they are extremely dangerous, and like cigarettes, the truth is likely to be covered up as long as possible. This stuff is poison.

  6. Reta

    This is all so interesting. I have had 2 episodes with statins.

    First it was Vytorin taking my total cholesterol down to 105. Every medical professional told me how great my levels were. I would ask them why I felt so bad. I was extremely angry, developed insomnia and some post menopausal bleeding. My hormones were all screwed up and that was adding to the madness. I stopped the statin and 3 days later I was a normal person. The doctor was amazed.

    The 2nd experience was last year. I was put on Lipitor 40 mg which brought my cholesterol down to 138 almost a 100 point drop. The doctor was pleased but I toldhim it was too low and I wanted to reduce the Lipitor to 20mg. He wasn’t my regular doctor and I wasn’t really that nice to him. After lowering the Lipitor my mood improved. I explained to my doctor it was like having someone behind you in the shadows whispering in your ear.

    Now my only problem with the Lipitor is heartburn. I never had heartburn before. Now drinking water in the evenings will give me heartburn.

    I am startng to think the experience of extremely low cholesterol increased the development of cataracts. My ophthalmologist had told me I had decades before I would need to do anything about them. I think it was 4 years later when the optometrist could only correct my vision to 20/40 in the left eye. He said the cataract on the left eye was ripe. I was 58 and had cataracts taken off both eyes.

    I am amazed when the doctors treat you like a nut case because you see the connection and they don’t or refuse to.

  7. Thomas

    After 4 months on Crestor in 2015, I was unable to walk or use my shoulders with extreme pain. Could not roll over in bed due to pain. Needed help to get out of bed, to shower, to dry and to dress. Mostly sat inside watching tv. Doctors unable to diagnose. Urine went the colour of black tea or coke.

    Using internet, I self-diagnosed rhabdomyolisis and stopped Crestor. That was 28 October 2015. I have very slowly improved. GPs, cardiologist and rheumatologist all agree with my diagnosis. Now, weak damaged thigh and shoulder muscles but no constant pain, only when extending myself. Now, nine months later, with continuing improvement, I am optomistic that I may improve to 85-90% of my former self over the next 6-12 months, but I suspect the cells of my major muscles are permanently damaged and scarred. The only advice I have received is from one GP and one cardiologist which was “all the best”.

  8. Kathi
    East Coast

    I started on statins at age 40. At 47 I had cataract surgery in both eyes. Had the risk factors of mild Type II diabetes and significant myopia, but still I was very young. Over the years I have been on several statins and all give me the classic symptoms – muscle weakness, cognitive confusion, difficulties with word find, memory loss, etc.

    I stopped working several years ago because of the mental issues. Every 6 months or so when the side effects are too much to handle I take a break of a couple of weeks. Doctors insist I need them and I need my LDL to be around 70. Someone in the comments mentioned nose bleeds. I have been plagued by them for years. The ENT found no physical cause and told me to keep my nasal passages moist, but that’s just a little help. I wonder it the Crestor has something to do with them. My doctor wonders if it contributes to my slightly low platelet count. The stuff is more harm than good.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.

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