bottles of crestor lipitor and simvastatin cholesterol-lowering drugs, numbness in fingers and toes, statins fail

Jane Brody, the grande dame of medical journalism, asked: “Are you among the 73 million Americans with cholesterol levels that current guidelines suggest should be lowered by taking a statin for the sake of your cardiovascular well-being?” (New York Times, April 16, 2018). Ms. Brody goes on to downplay the side effects of statins. But what about statins and muscle pain? Some people, like this reader, say that these drugs make them hurt too much to exercise.

Statins and Muscle Pain:

Q. My doctor has prescribed a number of statins to lower my cholesterol. Simvastatin caused pain on top of pain. Lovastatin was okay for several weeks, but it too eventually caused both muscle and joint pain.

I cannot exercise when I hurt like this. I am ready to give up on statins because I think I am sensitive to all of these drugs. What else can I take to make my doctor stop prescribing statins?

Are Statins and Muscle Pain Related?

In her New York Times article Jane Brody cites an “international team of researchers” writing in The Lancet (Nov. 19, 2016)

“exaggerated claims about side-effect rates with statin therapy may be responsible for its underuse among individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular events. For, whereas the rare cases of myopathy and any muscle-related symptoms that are attributed to statin therapy generally resolve rapidly when treatment is stopped, the heart attacks or strokes that may occur if statin therapy is stopped unnecessarily can be devastating.”

These researchers are statin enthusiasts. We recognize that many cardiologists are in this camp. They sincerely believe that statins save millions of lives and have few, if any, side effects.

Should you wish to read what a cardiologist contrarian has to say, here is an article by Robert DuBroff, MD (American Journal of Medicine, Sept. 2018).  It is titled:

“A Reappraisal of the Lipid Hypothesis”

Statins and Muscle Pain? How Often?

The authors of The Lancet article above suggest that myopathy is a rare side effect and any muscle-related symptoms should disappear rapidly if statins are stopped.

There is controversy about the actual incidence of something doctors call SAMS (statin-associated muscle symptoms. Researchers writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (May 24, 2016) state that SAMS: 

 “is the most frequent SAS [statin-associated symptom] and mild myalgia may affect 5% to 10% of statin users.”

Other investigators put the incidence of SAMS much higher (BMJ, Oct. 22, 2013). 

How do Statins and Muscle Symptoms Impact Exercise?

If you ask any health professionals about the value of exercise for the heart and cardiovascular system you will get almost universal agreement. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine (June 9, 2014) reported that long-term use of statins in older men 

“are associated with less physical activity for as long as statins are used.”

You can read more details about this study in this article:

Do Statins Interfere with Exercise?

Do Statins Interfere with Exercise?

Rita Redberg, MD, MSc, is the Editor of JAMA Internal Medicine. She also happens to be a leading cardiologist in her own right. She and a colleague wrote an intriguing article (JAMA Internal Medicine, Nov. 15, 2016): 

“Statins for Primary Prevention:

The Debate Is Intense, but the Data Are Weak.”

You can read the nuts and bolts here:

Do Statin Side Effects Make It Harder To Exercise?

Do Statin Side Effects Make It Harder To Exercise?

 In this article they note that statin side effects affect 5 to 20 percent of patients and include:

“muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and increased risk of diabetes.”

What Else Can People Do to Lower Risks?

There is little doubt that lifestyle changes are essential for heart health. We advised the person who asked the question at the top of this article to:

Consider adopting a diet that includes almonds or other nuts, soy protein instead of red meat and viscous fibers from plants like okra, eggplant, barley, oats and psyllium. Canadian researchers found that such a diet is as effective as lovastatin for lowering cholesterol (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2005). 

What’s more, it lowers C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation (JAMA, July 23, 2003).  A meta-analysis of seven trials shows that this dietary approach works well to lower LDL cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors without side effects (Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, May 2018). 

You can learn more about this diet and other non-drug approaches to lowering your cholesterol in our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health, available at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Share Your Story Here Please

Have you ever experienced muscle pain or weakness? If so, do you think it was mostly psychological as Jane Brody seems to suggest in her New York Times article? Did the symptoms disappear rapidly as the researchers writing in The Lancet article suggest?

If you have tolerated statins well with no side effects we would like to hear from you as well. Thanks for sharing your story below in the comment section.

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  1. dr josafin p.
    New Jersey
    Reply

    I also took simvistatin 10 mg for cholesterol issues. I’m hypo-thyroid so cholesterol issues go hand in hand. I complained to my endocrinologist about all the muscle aches and pains. He told me to stop the statin. I did, and shortly thereafter had no pain in my hips or legs or arms. Amazing what a difference it made. My cholesterol went up again so I debated going back on it maybe less than daily. That seems to be ok for now. Will see if the pain starts again if I am on it more than 2 months.

  2. Mary
    SC
    Reply

    I started taking 80mg of pravastatin in Sept. 2018. I had resisted for years and had been listed as ‘non-compliant’ by several doctors. My new doctor convinced me to give it a try as my ‘bad’ ldl cholesterol had risen to 189.

    By mid Dec. I started feeling worn out: tired, forgetful, falling asleep during the day, and my muscles were so sore and weak. I felt very ‘shaky’ and felt unsteady standing. I got dizzy and fell into the wall/doorframe several times. I’m only 56 years old. I was having trouble doing my daily walk. I couldn’t even lift a gallon jug and pour from it. This was definitely NOT psychological pain!

    I was doing (or trying to do) some therapy stretches for my lower back pain and could not get up off the floor. My forearm gave out on me and I fell onto my elbow and injured my rotator cuff.
    Then I had to go see my Physiatrist. She’s the one who urged me to go back to the doc who prescribed the statin.

    When I returned to see him he had me try CoQ10 for one week. That helped some but he said I should stop the statin for a week and see if that was what was causing my problems.
    Within a couple of days the shakiness was gone and everthing started resolving. After 2 weeks I was back to normal and could not believe how much better I felt. I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I got back to normal.

    I was happy that the statin dropped my ldl to 104 but I simply cannot tolerate the side effects.

  3. Susan
    Seattle
    Reply

    I had a pontine stroke in December. I’m 64, and the effects were pretty mild (right hand and right side leg weakness.) I have familial high cholesterol, meaning diet and exercise help very little to lower my numbers. Immediately after the stroke, I was put on 80 mg. of Lipitor. I had a follow-up with my neurologist 2 months after the stroke. I had no a-fib (sometimes related to stroke) and no extensive carotid blockage. He cut the dose in half, 40 mg, 2 weeks ago.

    After that I experienced such excruciating bicep muscle pain, I was sidelined all day. This past week, the pain was so bad I called the neurologist and was told to stop statin, and see my doctor, whom I see today. Later that evening, the pain was so bad, I considered going to the ER (it was a Saturday.) I’m hoping there is an alternative to lower my cholesterol; I know there are newer medications to lower cholesterol. I’m concerned about having another stroke,understandably.

    Any folks have any similar experiences, and what changes did you make?

  4. Carolyn
    Utah
    Reply

    Approximately, my Dr prescribed symvastaion because I have had type 1 diabetes for 50+ years and it would be a preventative although my cholesterol levels were great.
    After just a short time the muscles in my legs became so weak I had a hard time coming up my basement stairs and getting out of a chair. I broke out in a very severe rash in my hair and around my eyes and nose and fingernails. Eventually, blood work showed by CK levels were very high and the Dr took me off the medication. After a month my symptoms did not get better and I was eventually diagnosed with Dermatomyositis. I under went high doses of prednisone to get them down and I still have a lot of muscle weakness. I am on Imuran now but I still can’t do stairs without a handrail to help pull me up. Sad story!

  5. PG
    Greensboro, NC
    Reply

    I took a statin for just two and a half months. It has now been three months since my last pill, and I’m still in pain. Moreover, I feel that my energy has been zapped, and I can’t exercise like I use to. The liver test indicated that my enzymes were elevated, so my doctor told me to cut the pill in half, which was next to impossible. This didn’t help at all. I developed a new type of pain, stabbing all over is the best I can describe it. I am a 67 year-old female, normal weight and I have Lupus. I just wonder if the statin was causing my Lupus to be active again. This was one of the worse experiences regarding a medication I have ever had. So, no thank you to statins. I’m done.

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