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.