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. Donna
    Montgomery, Alabama

    I know it’s the statin in the drug/my dad almost died from statin (Lipitor). I got put on it not knowing and was telling my dad my stomach was upset and especially plus terrible headaches:/ My muscles, even my head was sore: he told me when he took it he felt like he had the flu.

    I’ve been off the Lipitor for over a month, my bones pop, my arms and neck are so sore, Tylenol doesn’t work and neither do pain meds. Till I looked it up I thought I may have fibromyalgia/then I read where a few peoples muscles ache from Lipitor for years sometimes:/ It even said statin may be dormant in your muscles.

    I can’t lift my arms over my head to take my shirt off. I have Faith and I have wisdom. I think I read anout steroid shots/I’m calllimg my doctor tomorrow I’m a little worried about this. I hope I helped someone. Donna T

  2. Debra

    I had been on several different statins over a 5-year period. With each different brand my side effects would increase or add another one to the list. My doctor always insisted that I should go off of them for a week and then restart the medication. After 4 major statins I was led to believe that not all brands of statins cause these problems and that if I did not not take them I had about 10 years to live before dying of a stroke or heart attack. Crestor was the last and final one I took. Let me say that with every side effect that I tried to talk to the doctor about, I never got an answer. It was as though he didn’t want to listen. I was reminded that I was in my 60’s and to take this into consideration.

    The side effects started with outrageous pain in my arms and legs, then rashes, hair loss, and head aches and progresses to having no strength whatsoever to even walk across the street, and then on to the most horrid upper belly pain I have ever experienced. After that the backs of my eyes swelled, leaving me with blurred vision and medication for that for the rest of my life. The final blow was some serious memory loss.

    I run a business, and the memory loss almost cost me the job. I am an artist, painting professionally. When I had no memory of how to turn a computer on at work or be in my studio and wonder just what it was I should be doing with a paint brush, I panicked and took myself off of the statins. I eat extremely healthy, and after almost a year now I can walk about a 1/2 mile, certainly nothing like my 2 mile walks in the mornings before this. I still have weakness in my arms and legs at times, however.

    My biggest concern is that I still have bouts of that horrible upper belly pain. The mental torment is that this all started 5 years ago, and they brow beat me into fearing I only had 10 years to live. Does this mean I now have 5 years left?

    I do not believe that statins of any kind can or will prevent my having a heart attacks or strokes. What they can achieve is a life-time of side effects that ruin my quality of life. Will my upper belly pain ever go away?

  3. Denise
    Mustang, OK

    I guess I realized I had high cholesterol when the doctor prescribed me a statin cholesterol-lowering medication. when I was going into early menopause I did not realize that high cholesterol goes hand-in-hand with menopause. I would take the pill but didn’t like how it made me feel. Doctor would scold me for not taking it because the lipid panel would be high again. So then I got it into my thick head that I have to take this freaking pill every single day for the rest of my life.

    After reviewing some of the medications I was on I realized that I hurt in places Ive never hurt before. I would tell the doctor, and he would prescribe me something else, and it helped, but then I realized that I was just feeding my body a bunch of stuff that was not normal. I wanted to be normal.

    So here I am three weeks after stopping the statin medication. I still have places that hurt, and I don’t want to move. I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars for scans and x-rays to find out the source of my pain but realize now that it was probably the stupid statin medication.

    Now I’m wondering if the pain will ever go away. Week one after stopping the statin was great. In week two I was having trouble sleeping. In week three I have the pain but don’t nothing else. I hope that it’s not permanent. I hope that it does go away in time but I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody else really knows either. If anybody has the answers please let me know.

  4. Tom
    Camas, WA

    My husband took Atorvastatin irregulary for some time. Recently, the doctor requested he go on 40 mg daily “to help his diabetes”. He did not have a cholesterol problem. I noticed he began “shuffling” as he walked but did not connect it with his meds. Two weeks into the statin regimen, he began crying out in pain trying to get up from a chair. His legs, shoulders, and arms were very painful. He became disoriented.

    A brief search of his meds came up with the culprit being Atorvastatin. I suggested he go off it immediately and get an appointment with his doctor. The doctor totally dismissed his statement that the statin was causing him problems. We ended up at the emergency room and that doctor initally felt it could not be the statin, as he had been off it for about 2 weeks (supposed to be out of your system in 24 hours, true but the side effects linger). Found two sites, Dr. Mecozzi & Dr. Sinatra that had lists of supplements you could take to help reverse the effects of statin damage. It has helped but the swelling of his lower legs and hand have me very concerned.

    Prior to this, he was walking a couple of miles a day and living a fairly normal life. The first two weeks after going off the drug, he was totally incapacitated, needing help for dressing, walking, getting up and down from chairs. I do see improvement, he has been able to walk slowly for some distance and no longer screams when trying to stand up, but it has been very slow.

    What is most discouraging is the attitude of the medical professionals (chiropractors being the exception) who absolutely defend the drug and deny the connection with it and the disastrous complications that linger well after stopping it’s use.

    He will not be going back to that doctor who basically said he was throwing his life away if he went off the statin.

    2 Big questions: HOW do you find a doctor that specializes in statin recovery when most will not even admit there is a problem that can linger long after one stops taking this drug?
    Did anyone find relief for the swelling in the lower legs and hands?

  5. Terrye

    I have the pre-diabetes, leg pain, memory, and feet neuropathy.

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