Man with painful hip, muscle pain from statins

Regular exercise is considered essential for good health. The benefits include weight control, diabetes prevention, blood sugar management, blood lipid control, improved mood, better sleep and a reduced risk of dementia. Most health professionals would agree that anything that enhances exercise should be encouraged. But what about things that might discourage exercise? How do doctors feel about statin side effects that interfere with exercise? This reader would like an answer to his dilemma:

Q. A cardiologist started me on atorvastatin because my cholesterol was borderline. I am 70 years old, 6 feet tall, 151 lb and very active.

Within a few weeks I was experiencing intermittent muscle pain. I also had to force myself to exercise because I tired very quickly. My sex drive dropped through the floor.

After ten months, I noticed joint pain that quickly escalated. Soon hip pain threatened to keep me from walking, so in early December I had to stop the drug.

Recovery started quickly and now after six weeks, I am feeling good again. I have a home testing kit to help monitor my cholesterol. What do you recommend for controlling it without drugs?

A. Statins like atorvastatin (Lipitor), pitavastatin (Livalo), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor) have become the foundation for heart attack prevention. Some people, however, experience debilitating side effects like those you mention.

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine (June 9, 2014) points out that long-term use of statins “are associated with less physical activity for as long as statins are used.” The authors note that this may be due to muscle pain, fatigue and weakness.

Why Are Statin Side Effects So Controversial?

Many health professionals find it hard to believe statin side effects exist. An article in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology (March, 2014) concluded that symptoms such as arthritis, muscle pain and weakness are not caused by statins. They based this conclusion on randomized controlled trials carried out by drug companies.

But other studies report something quite different. Rita Redberg, MD, MSc, is a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. She is also Editor of JAMA Internal Medicine. Together with her colleague, Mitchell Katz, MD, she wrote an editorial (JAMA Internal Medicine, Nov. 15, 2016) titled:

“Statins for Primary Prevention: The Debate Is Intense, but the Data Are Weak.”

Here is what they write about statin side effects:

“Although reported rates of adverse events in clinical trials are low, this does not reflect the experience of clinicians who see patients who are taking statins. For instance, the experience of an NPR reporter with a calculated 2.9% risk of heart disease over 10 years using the recommended American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) risk calculator, but still prescribed a statin, and experiencing adverse effects from the medication, is typical of what many clinicians see in practice. She reported that ‘going for a walk was like slogging through mud’ until ‘I ditched the statin. The weakness evaporated. I could run again.'”

These physicians go on to compare benefits to risks and note:

“Using the current data, the decision aid shows that of 100 people who take a statin for 5 years, only 2 of 100 will avoid a myocardial infarction [heart attack], and 98 of the 100 will not experience any benefit. There will be no mortality benefit for any of the 100 people taking the medicine every day for 5 years. At the same time, 5 to 20 of the 100 will experience muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and increased risk of diabetes.”

That comes straight from cardiologist Rita Redberg, not some statin skeptic with no understanding of statistics.

If you are at significant risk for heart disease or have had a heart attack or a stent placed in a coronary artery, then statins make sense. If you experience no statin side effects then these drugs may well be helpful. But if statin side effects make it hard to exercise and you are otherwise healthy, it may be time to quote Dr. Redberg’s editorial to the prescriber.

The Take Home Message:

Exercise is at least as important as cholesterol control in preventing heart attacks. There are a number of ways you can keep your cholesterol down and still stay active.

We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health, with tips on anti-inflammatory foods and Laura Effel’s strategy for lowering her LDL cholesterol 44 points in five weeks without a statin.

Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope:

  • Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. C-8
  • P. O. Box 52027
  • Durham, NC 27717-2027.

It can also be downloaded for $2 from the website:

What has been your experience with statins? Have you managed to avoid all side effects or did muscle pain or arthritis cause you problems? Share your story in the comment section below.

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  1. charles shanks

    My wife was having muscle spasms 10 yrs. plus ago from Lipitor.(Can Prove it.) After she quit they let up some, but in later yrs. (she is 67) She has gone thru muscle cramp / spasm Hell! And as recently as last year our Dr. (Now fired) pushed them on her in a different statin name. Me too! Slow to figure out the side effects, I wasion this same Dr.s care to use Atorvastatin (Lipitor) I did for 4-5 months before I woke up, stretched in bed instinctively one morning, and thought I was stabbed with an ice pick in my right calf! I was also put on Lisinopril by him and was told by my pharmacist about why I had a usual cough that sometimes does not go away with that Drug (Also other side effects from hell I will not mention.I quit them both and my Dr. called me in for an office call that basically was a pep talk to trust him and continue on! I changed Dr.s after he walked out while I was trying to explain more side effects of messing up my sleep and weird dreams and more. (sexual) My wife had a PAINFUL,one-hour breathtaking, both sides of her chest, *Spasm* last night I am getting Madder by the Day! I will let God decide when He wants me and How! And if I ever can find a lawyer for my wife I will pursue this irresponsibility and damage.

  2. M L O
    delancey ny

    Statins darn near killed me!!! They made me unable to focus on even the most simple of tasks and I had to fight the sensation of feeling like I was going to pass out!!! My thought processes were disturbed, even having to concentrate on what words I had to say, so the wrong word didn’t come out. I never would have suspected my statins if it were not for my brother in law, who had similar experiences and ended up in the ER with a diagnosis of total global amnesia!

    I know of at least 5 people this has happened to. I believe statins to be very very dangerous as they destroy the essence of thought, turning one into a blithering idiot! Told my MD she can check my cholesterol after I am dead and she should look at confusion in the elderly, because it is probably their statin that is the problem. She laughed, but believe me, I know better. Changing from one statin to another is like changing your seat on the Titanic.

  3. Carol

    I did not see CoQ10 in any of the comments. I was told by a very good friend how it helped him – while I was hospitalized for 3 weeks my husband didn’t take his because I wasn’t there to remind him and he had obvious memory problems until I was home and got back on track.

    I don’t understand why physcians continue to prescribe statins when lipid profiles are in normal range.

  4. Linda

    My husband took statins for awhile, the first one made him so forgetful he went off it. After having a heart attack they put him on another statin and this time his muscles became so weak and sore. I talked to a cardiologist at the hospital about the dangers of statins and he said it’s the drug that is preventing heart attacks in heart patients for many years. Then I talked with another cardiologist and he said that diet and exercise are the primary things to do to lower bad cholesterol.

    He then put my husband on Zetia, which is not a statin to lower his cholesterol. It doesn’t appear as if he’s having issues with his memory or his muscle aches. I wish he could go off this and simply use diet and exercise as his means of being healthy, but the Doctors scare one to death about not taking a cholesterol lowering drug.

  5. Joanne
    Lathrop, CA

    In November 2007, I had a heart attack. When I was released from the hospital 2 days later, I was sent home with eight (8) different prescription medications. Within two months of taking simvastatin, I felt like a 90 year old arthritic and I was 55 at that time. I told my doctor about the effects of the medication. He took me off of one med each week to see if there was a change in my condition.

    It was determined that the simvastatin was the problem, but he said I could not stop taking it. He sent me to an allergist and told him to prescribe something that would counter the side effects of the simvastatin. I chose to stop the simvastatin and to take Red Yeast Rice, an “over the counter” supplement. Within two days the previous side effects has completely ceased. Within 6 months, my cholesterol had dropped 50 points.

    I also changed my diet to include lots of fruits and vegetables, reduced sodium intake, and stopped eating processed foods. I started walking five (5) days a week for at least 30 minutes. I am no longer on any prescription drugs and my health is very much improved. It has been 10 years since the heart attack and all is well. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

  6. Sheri

    I was convinced to start up statins again after many years of refusing to take them. I had muscle pain and fatigue which I thought was fibromyalgia when I took them years ago. After going through some life changing events I lost weight and got healthier. Fast forward to today, due to neck pain I can not do the extreme exercising I once did, although I’ve been maintaining my weight with healthy eating.

    After 2 months on the statin, I have the leg muscle pain back and I’ve gained 10 pounds. Nothing else has changed!! As of today I am stopping the statin and I will see what happens.

  7. Nicki

    Eighteen years ago I had quintuple bypass surgery and have taken Lipitor (now atorvastatin) ever since. Although I have arthritis aches sometimes and my blood sugar lately has risen, I think the drug has helped me more than it has hindered. Certainly my cholesterol remains in the 145-150 range where it should be. I’m grateful not to have had any serious side effects as some others have had.

    Nicki, Oregon, March 14, 2017

  8. Deloris

    I quit 10 mg simvastatin over 6 years ago, and my muscle, nerve, and joint pain and weakness have become progressively worse. While I took the drug, I was a member of a gym and exercised 2-3 times a week and 2 hours a session. I kept up with this schedule even after I stopped the statin after a year and a half, but I still had to stop exercising due to pain, weakness and shortness of breath.

    Now, I can barely walk, let alone get any meaningful exercise. For me, simvastatin caused numerous side effects and also triggered other conditions that lurk in my family tree. Doctors may note this in my medical record, but none have offered any treatment whatsoever. I will never take another statin and I don’t care what my lipid levels are.

  9. Mary

    Dr Al Sears wrote that statins make it impossible for the heart to speed up enough to exercise successfully. A slow heartbeat when running might not be what is best for the body.

    I just said NO to any statin.

  10. Judi
    port st. lucie, fl 34986

    My husband was having serious side effects from every statin drug the doctor tried until he put him on a water soluable statin which he said would only stay in his system a short while. He no longer has the scary side effects.

  11. Steve

    Denmark has socialized medicine. As a result, huge numbers of the people there take statins. A huge population study clearly showed that the extended use of statins in their elderly population resulted in an increased number of falls (just while walking). The number of people with falls and fall related injuries decreased significantly when the use of statins was curtailed. Statins are dangerous.

  12. Dorothy
    North Carolina

    My cardiologist insists that I take Lipitor in a small dose. I had a triple bypass in January 2012. Before that I was in a very active aerobics class. My internist is not so much in favor of statins. Also, my cardiologist insists that I walk 10 minutes or more a day. The problem is that my right leg is always very painful and makes it very difficult to exercise. I take arthritis medicine which sometimes works and not other times.

  13. James

    70 Years old now – male – 205 lbs

    My personal experience with statin muscle pain and strength loss mirrors all that is already depicted in the inputs of others here.

    My experience is that ceasing statins (I was prescribed three different ones over 15 years) is when my most severe problems began. I have been off the statins about 7 years now and very little in the way of “improvement” has occurred. I have gone the routes of physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, supplements, and essential oils. Each of these has had some positive effects, but none offer any path to restoration. Just trying to keep my ability to walk is a primary goal.

    As a side note, my primary physician of some 30 years who first ordered the statins for me, has always assured me that he follows his own directions with meds. He is very much less mobile than I am ( think Tim Conway’s character in Carole Burnett shows). The real irony is the he has never expressed any suspicion that statins did this to us. He and I were avid runners and bike riders years before statins came along.

    If you have ceased statins with some return of muscles being capable of the normal “work = improvement” effect, thank your lucky star, but please be on top of the muscle maintenance supplementation needs left behind……CoQ10 / L-Carnitine / etc.
    If you search “statin side effects” you will see there are thousands who share our experiences. Big Pharma seems to be coming to the “rescue” with a line of drugs to correct what this one has wrought upon society (next multi Billion $ drugs).

  14. Rita

    I was put on statins and took them for a few months. I did not experience the exercise issues, but my immune system pretty much stopped working. My standard cold lasts about two days, and I always get a flu shot, but a few months after I started the statins, I started into a cold. I used my usual safeguards of sleep and zinc lozenges, but the cold deepened, lasted over week and turned into a bad cough that only mitigated after two weeks. Just as I was feeling better, I got what seemed like a 24 hr stomach flu (which I haven’t had since I was in my 20s). It lasted a week, only gradually weakening each day.

    Then I heard a mention on your show that statins can affect immune function (two molecular types are aggregated but one is good LDL and the other is bad LDL). I stopped immediately, and within a couple of months, I felt better and I’ve not had anything, even a small cold in half a year. Since my cholestrol has been just over 200 since I was 30, and I am healthy and exercise almost an hour every day (used to run 6 mi. 3-4 X and week but bad feet have forced me to walk 3 mi. in hiking boots, so I’ve added 2X a week of gym workout).

    I will never take statins again. Rather risk a heart attack as to be so sick all the time.

  15. Andrew
    Greensboro, NC

    Medications and laboratory tests are often “cash cows” for both the commercial companies and the doctors involved; there are a multitude of examples of this. Trusting studies sponsored by drug companies, including those that make statins, is fraught with danger. Other people (including me) have seen many who have had severe muscular problems while on statins, yet the company-sponsored studies in essence have all said the risk of such problems was minimal to nonexistent. We need some way to be sure studies and their results can be monitored by truly neutral evaluators before risking the lives and health of the patients to be treated.

  16. G. Barber

    Statins are pure poison!!! I was put on Zocor 17 years ago. 60 days after starting on Zocor, I experienced severe burning pain in both deltoid muscles. Went to the hospital and it took 12 hours using morphine to alleviate the pain. Went to an immunoligist who said his experience was 20% of statin patients had severe muscle pain. My situation progressed into a severe immune disease which I still have today. Have had to have both knees and hips replaced, ravaged by arthritits, carpl tunnel releases both wrists, lower back pain. Been to Mayo, Cornell school of medicine, and two location of Shands U of Florida) research centers. Final diagnosis was Charcot Marie Tooth (no Kidding), for which there is no cure! Avoid STATINS at all costs!!! Glenn, Florida

  17. Sam

    I cannot take statin drugs. They cause terrible muscle weakness in my legs. I have to pull myself up stairs with my arms.

    • Mary

      I don’t know if CoQ10 would assist with the statin problems. I do know I would take a mid-range dose to find out.

  18. Ken
    Dayton, OH

    I had an aortic valve replacement two years ago. After the surgery I was diagnosed with proximal a fib. My cholesterol was good but my cardiologist wanted it better. I tried a statin and had the muscle aches that are discussed in the article. Through diet and exercise, after stopping the statin with the doctor’s approval, I was able to bring my LDL lower. However, I have had two ITAs so my cardiologist again felt I should be able to lower my LDL even further with a statin. We have come to an understanding that I will continue my diet and exercise and take a statin twice a week. Also, during the time without the statin with just diet and exercise, I was able to reduce plague buildup in my carotid arteries. I believe that physicians who are willing to listen to their patients and work with them can see positive results with fewer medications as long as the patient is willing to listen to the physician as well.

  19. Christopher Wunsch

    Just wanted to say to your reader, I am very happy you have made a recovery from your statin Adverse Effects, I, like many others have not been so fortunate, My muscles hurt nonstop, since Oct 2002. I would suggest you read as much as you can from cardiologists Dr Aseem Malhotra, Dr Barbara Roberts, Dr Peter Langsjoen, Dr Rita Redberg, Dr Steven Sinatra, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, before ever doing anything to artificially alter your cholesterol levels, (The Sex Drive issue you mentioned, Testosterone is made in the same pathway that Cholesterol is made, thereby blocking cholesterol production, also blocks Testosterone production.

  20. Roz Rayner-Rix

    No one over 70 should be taking Statins… I have read this on several reports… My friend had been prescribed them for 15 years, she is 81. A couple of years ago in her home just walking about her ankle snapped. The muscle had wasted away from taking statins and she ended up in hospital for 3 weeks… Now she has completely stopped taking them and says she has never felt better…

  21. Kim

    My husband hadn’t couple blockages & one stent in 2006. He was put on Lipitor along with metoprolol & plavix. Went off the plavix after a yr. in 2013 he started experiencing serious joint , muscle issues. He couldn’t lift a carton of milk without dropping it. He was suffering so bad. I was reading about statins causing this. So his doctor started trying every statin out there. They all caused the same effects & Crestor caused severe depression. Loped caused same weakness along with cholesterol jumping from 122 to 240 in 3 months. He had to stop it all after 2 yrs of hell. In July 2016 he had chest pains, took to ER, he needed triple bypass. They put him back on Lipitor & wasn’t long he was unable to do anything. So he tried taking it every other day, didn’t help , then every 3 days. He is trying his best to take it cause doctors do not care about their quality of life says he needs it. He had to stop them for now to try to regain his strength to go to the gym. It has been a nightmare for us the pain statins cause. I have seen him n tears from joint pain & unable to do much of anything. When he is off of them he is active, going to the gym & his ole self. I see they also mess with his brain, causing depression & confusion, forgetting.

  22. Rick
    Springfield, MO

    I have high blood pressure and took statins for about 10 years. My ability to walk distances got poorer at time passed. I asked several doctors if the statins could be contributing to the problem. None suggested stopping use of statins. The doctor I see now did a blood test that he said would show if the statins were a problem and told that they were not. I was considering what social functions to attend according to how far it was from the parking lot to the venue. Five months ago I made the decision to do a trial period without taking the statins. My ability to walk distances started improving immediately and now I can walk several blocks without having rest my legs and back. I am still improving. My mood and energy levels are better.

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