The People's Perspective on Medicine

Are Statin Side Effects Fake Medical News?

Some doctors get angry when there are reports about statins and adverse drug reactions. Are statin side effects fake or all in peoples' heads? What say you?
Male doctor terrified looking at medical reports over gray background

Doctors dislike drug side effects. After all, physicians prescribe medications to help people, not to hurt them. And yet every medicine has the potential to cause adverse reactions. This leaves physicians in a predicament. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, left an enduring caution: “first, do no harm.” And yet every prescription has the capability of harming someone. Holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously makes many doctors uncomfortable. To overcome this, some doctors have started calling reports of statin side effects fake news.

Denial as a Defense Mechanism:

One way to overcome the discomfort of cognitive dissonance (dealing with conflicting ideas) is to deny a problem exists. On the one hand, doctors like to think of themselves as caring people protecting patients from harm.

On the other hand, if they read the medical literature and the official prescribing information associated with the drugs they prescribe, they would have to acknowledge that these medications can sometimes cause serious complications. A way to deal with this impasse is to downplay the likelihood of adverse drug reactions.

Calling Statin Side Effects Fake Medical News:

Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to statins. Physicians think of atorvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin or simvastatin as indispensable medications for preventing heart disease. One prominent cardiologist maintains that statins are safe and effective. End of discussion! Stop complaining. 

As a result of such proclamations, many doctors have a hard time imagining that these cholesterol-lowering medications could increase a patient’s risk for diabetes, cataracts, pancreatitis, joint, muscle or nerve pain, to name just a few statin-related side effects.

Some health professionals insist that statins have virtually no side effects (European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, March 12, 2014). 
Doctors or patient advocates who describe statin symptoms are accused of fear-mongering (JAMA Cardiology, June 26, 2019). Any questioning of the benefits or risks of these lipid-lowering drugs is met with the query: are statin side effects fake medical news? That seed of doubt makes patients wonder if their experience is “real,” or “all in their heads.”

What Does the Medical Literature Reveal?

When statin side effects are reported in the medical literature, they often are surrounded by controversy. But they just don’t go away.

Cataracts? Are Such Statin Side Effects Fake News?

Very early studies of statin drugs found that dogs exposed to high doses developed clouded lenses. These reports were ignored for years. After all, dogs are not people.

But studies have linked statins to cataracts . The most recent was published in Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology (June 28, 2019)

Researchers evaluated drug use and cataracts and concluded:

“Using a large real-life database (>18.5 million reports), we found a signal of cataract for LLD [lipid-lowering drugs] as a whole and statins, bile sequestrants and herbal drugs in particular.”

There are actually quite a few other medical reports that link statin use to cataract formation. Here is a link:

Statins and Cataracts: Why Did It Take So Long to Uncover This Connection?

Canadian, Chinese and Italian researchers also report connections between statins and cataracts. Oh, and let’s not forget Mayo Clinic research. You can find these articles at this link:

Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Raise Risk of Cataract Surgery

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Reader Comments:

Junebug reports several statin statin side effects:

“Cataracts run in my family. I was a statin guinea pig two years ago. The drugs caused me intense pain. I experienced neuropathy, memory loss, and dizziness. I already have arthritis. The pain was unbearable. When my legs started to numb out, that was it! I have cataracts that need fixing, too, but whether or not they were aggravated by statins I guess I will never know.”

Cliff provides some interesting historical context:

“About fifteen years ago I consulted a pair of ophthalmology researchers at a major medical school in Chicago. When they discovered that I was taking a statin, they alerted me to a likely causal tie between such drugs and cataracts. They used the words ‘will’ and ‘when’ rather than ‘may’ and ‘if.’

“At the time at least one statin manufacturer was claiming in TV ads that their product prevented cataracts. I soon wound up switching to another class of medications, because the statin seemed to be really aggravating my essential tremor. I did indeed develop cataracts.”

Some cardiologists will respond that cataract surgery is no big deal and worth it to prevent a heart attack. The only trouble is that the actual benefit may be smaller than most people realize.

How Good Are Statins at Prolonging Life?

Researchers wondered how good statins are at prolonging life (BMJ Open (Sept. 24, 2015).

They reviewed randomized controlled trials and concluded:

“Death was postponed between -5 and 19 days in primary preventions trials and between -10 and 27 days in secondary prevention trials.

“The median postponement of death for primary and secondary prevention trials were 3.2 and 4.1 days, respectively.”

What About Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis can be incredibly painful. Although some doctors may doubt the connection with statin use, a systematic review concluded (Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, Oct. 2015):

“Statin use seems to be associated with an increased risk of acute pancreatitis.” 

Georgeann shared this experience:

“I developed pancreatitis from statins! I experienced a horrible case of chronic diarrhea, cramps and general malaise that lasted for about three years. All symptoms disappeared six weeks after stopping the statins.

“During the three years I had terrible invasive gastric tests. I was prescribed extremely pricey pig enzymes (Zenpep). Medicare would not pay for it because I fell into the ‘doughnut hole.’ When I did my own research, I discovered that pancreatitis is a statin side effect.”

Diabetes Is Not Good for Your Health!

Diabetes is no longer fake medical news either. A recent study found that statin use increased the chance of developing diabetes by 38 percent over 15 years (British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, May 2019).  The latest study found that 7 percent of people taking statins develop diabetes as a side effect (Postgraduate Medicine, July 16, 2019). 

Tarun shares this story of statins and diabetes:

“I just learned that I have diabetes. My blood glucose is 240 and my A1C is 9.6%. Last year I was normal; my blood glucose was 110 and A1c was below 5.5%.

“I am 55. I have been taking atorvastatin for three years. I do not have heart disease but my LDL cholesterol  is above 150. My doctor prescribed atorvastatin as a preventive measure. I wonder if this statin gave me diabetes.”

Shelley was challenged by her doctor:

“I brought the question of statins and diabetes to my VA doctor’s attention. She just poo-poo’ed it. My sugar is well-managed with the diabetes drug metformin.”

Teresa’s elderly mom developed diabetes:

“My 88-year-old mother was prescribed Lipitor by the family physician about 10 years ago. She became a type 2 diabetic. She stopped the atorvastatin after learning about the connection. She never had a heart attack but now she has to deal with diabetes in her old age.”

Are Other Statin Side Effects Fake?

Even the FDA lists muscle and joint pain and peripheral neuropathy as potential side effects of statins. We have heard from hundreds of people about their muscle aches, weakness and nerve problems.

Instead of dismissing such adverse reactions as fake medical news, doctors should be alerting their patients to be vigilant for complications. That way physicians and patients can work together to find the best strategy for each individual to reduce the risk of heart disease without causing other debilitating problems.

Some people will have to take statins because of their medical history, but they should not have to trade lower cholesterol for debilitating pain. Share your statin story in the comment section. Are statin side effects fake or imaginary? We would love to hear from you. 

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    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    I was an RN for 12 years when life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. I was hospitalized 28 days at a major university medical center in my state. I was akin to a 95 year old man with end-stage alzheimer’s disease. I could not walk or speak coherently, I had no idea who my wife was, nor my 2 year old son, my parents nor my siblings. MRI of my brain revealed “innumerable lesions scattered throughout the white matter of the brain, including the brain stem.” Biopsy revealed “Vacuolization of both neurophil and neuronal cytoplasm. Mitochondria have thickened disarrayed cristae and inclusions of lysosomal and autophagic vacuoles” I had been a high functioning 34 year old critical care RN, who was prescribed lipitor for my “high cholesterol.” Taking it was my WORST MISTAKE EVER.

    Now I am reduced to a shell of my former self, with “cognitive impairments of sufficient severity to severely restrict any substantial gainful employment” per Neuropsych eval. I am profoundly fatigued 24/7. I have Neuropathy as a result of Lipitor. All were caused by Lipitor. The Chief of Neurology discharged me with a diagnosis of “Viral Encephalitis” Now for almost 16 years I have been extensively researching Statins and the Cholesterol theory, both of which likely will go down as the biggest scams in the history of the world. Cholesterol is a molecule that is absolutely critical for life, present in each of the trillions of cells in our body, most abundantly in the brain’s central nervous system.

    I had been on Pravastatin for about 3 years but had elevated levels at last checkup. Doctor put me on the generic for Lipitor and in about a weeks time I started having excruciating muscle cramps in legs every morning. When I called doctor, he said it was the Lipitor and had me double up on dosage of the pravastatin. Leg cramps stopped almost immediately.

    Statin side effects are real. I tried them twice and each time I had debilitating muscle pain and weakness. I also have peripheral neuropathy. I have high HDL and low Triglycerides. I’m on a low Carb, High fat diet since 1/2/19 ,which made my LDL go up (also my Cholesterol). But my Remnant Cholesterol is only 11. Doc still trying to give me statin. The body needs, makes and uses cholesterol, and LDL distributes it to the organs. ( look up Ivor Cummins “The Fat Emperor ). The brain especially needs it. I also have Cateracts scheduled for removal in 10/2019. So no, I will not be taking a statin.

    I tried several statins at small doses and all caused muscle pain after a while. No other medicine I ever took before this such as antibiotics, blood pressure, thyroid, and allergy medicines gave me such symptoms. Some doctors also say that people report side effects because of some information they read. But when I was first prescribed a statin, more than 20 years ago, I knew nothing about statin side effects. These started a couple of months after I started taking it and it took me a while to figure out what was causing the problem. I don’t appreciate being told that the problem is all in my head.

    Since I had a stent implanted 10 yrs ago I’ve been on atorvastatin. Since then I’ve been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, My E.D. has gotten worse, and my foot feels cramped in shoes. All these might have happened anyway but it is suspicious. I wonder how important the astorvastatin is.

    I have tried all of the statins in generic or brand name form with various dosages under my PCP’s guidance during the past twenty years.

    My most common side effect is muscle pain particularly in the calf and thigh muscles. I did experience an episode of Gynecomastia resulting in my first and only breast X-ray.

    The calf muscle aches and spasms are debilitating for exercising and even walking. I get some relief from tight calf muscle sleeves, but the best solution I have found is name brand Crestor and 200mg of CoQ10 daily. My insurance has forced me to try generic Crestor but the pain was unbearable. I was successful in obtaining an insurance waiver to use only brand name. I have managed my cholesterol within limits with low dosage Crestor, exercise, and diet for the past eight years now.

    If anyone would study the mevalonate pathway in the body, they would realize that statin side effects are very predictable. Several important substances are produced in this pathway, including cholesterol, and statins were designed to block it, preventing these substances from doing their jobs.

    For me, their long-term depletion resulted in profound and permanent damage to my muscles, nerves, and joints. I have calcification of my coronary arteries from the depletion of Vitamin K2, making 3 stents necessary. I also had cataract surgery last year at a relatively early age, 65.

    The denials and full-blown anger I’ve experienced from doctors is an insult to my suffering and a testament to their inability to relate a basic biochemical process with an over-prescribed drug.

    I agree completely with Deloris. These doctors have been to medical school and have studied anatomy and should know how our bodies’ processes work.
    When you lower cholesterol you not only deplete CoQ10 but vitamin D and K as well.
    You are setting yourself up for a cascade failure.
    After taking a statin and then being switched to zetia I developed Polymyalgia Rheumatica. The pain is excruciating and can only be treated with steroids, with their own long list of side effects!

    I was prescribed Lipitor at 40 mg years ago. I had extreme pain from under my chin to my feet. I called the doctor’s office and was told to reduce the Lipitor to 20 mg. Same problem. I was then to reduce it to 10 mg. I voiced my objection but complied. Same problem. I’ve refused statins since then. The nurse said her mother had the same problem with statins.

    Oh statin side effects are indeed real! I had debilitating pain which only improved with large doses of Co-Q10. But then I found out I was also losing my memory, stopped the drugs for awhile, my memory improved, but when I started the statins again, within two weeks I could hardly remember my name.
    Now to hear about cataracts, which I also have, is almost too much.

    My cardiologist prescribed a statin for me, even though I protested that the side effects weren’t worth trying to lower my cholesterol, which was only 199 total. He was insistent I should lower my cholesterol, so I took a low dose.

    Almost immediately, I noticed at my weight training workouts that it’d become harder and harder to do the same number of repetitions. I reported that to the cardiologist. Fortunately, he went to the same gym and knew I regularly worked out. So he took me off the statin and had me try Zetia. But that also had the same immediate effects. He was surprised but said I should not take Zetia or any statin. He sent me to an endocrinologist, who suggested I take regular niacin (being sure to take it in the middle of a meal to avoid flushing) and not non-flush or time released niacin. He specified two brands (I decided on GNC).)

    So I’ve been taking niacin for years now. and my total cholesterol has been reduced a little and my HDL has increased. No side effects (except flushing when I forget to take it in the middle of eating)!

    I was able to reduce my bad cholesterol by eating stone ground oatmeal and ground Saigon brand of cinnamon daily for 6 months.
    Kate

    Some years ago, my excellent doctor (internist/cardiologist) told me that if he read the side effects of medications, he would never prescribe another drug for anyone. A professor in pharmacology at one of our medical schools said that he tells his students that if they don’t take away anything else from his class, to remember that all drugs are deadly poisons and every patient will react in his or her own individualized way.

    I don’t trust the government for a lot of things, but I do trust the FDA to correctly blackbox a drug when they finally admit that it is causing some dangerous or debilitating side effects. Statins are blackboxed. My husband’s doctor totally agreed with him that his memory loss, pain, neuropathy are due to statins, and that doctor, after taking them himself, refuses to prescribe them for his patients. Side effects of prescription drugs are NOT fake news.

    I have taken Statins twice, both with the same result: soon I could hardly remember my name! It caused other memory problems so bad that I asked my doctor: “Why have low Cholesterol if you don’t know who you are?” Needless to say, I am no longer taking them. Remember, doctors used to bleed people, and it wasn’t that long ago.

    Without a doubt, statins cause pain. I have been on statins off and on for many years. My muscle aches and pain plus muscle weakness were unbearable. I could not sleep because my muscles ached so bad.

    I would try topical pain cream, but it didn’t stop the pain. I could barely lift weights and work out. As soon as I stopped the statin, the pain went away. This happened time and time again. I would start….pain. I would stop….no pain. I even had to change my doctor. He and I finally had a blow up right in his office. He denied my pain over and over. He requested I find another doctor. I happily did. One that would actually listen to what was happening. I am not on a statin at the moment. I have heart checkups, eat clean and work out. All without pain.

    Interesting and helpful article. I think “cognitive dissonance” goes a long way in explaining the resistance to believe there are adverse effects.

    As a chiropractor, I noticed early on that some of my patients who were recently prescribed a statin developed rather intense and unusual muscle aches that didn’t correlate well to the usual neuromusculoskeletal problems one might look for. It seemed logical to suspect the medication, yet typically, when the patient returned to their prescribing doctor, the correlation was denied. Patients often decided to withdraw the medication themselves, and the symptoms typically resolved.

    In their heads? I don’t think so. Interestingly, psychosomatic issues have been known about for decades. They’re not necessarily easy to decipher, yet when it comes to something that medicine can’t explain, they’re suddenly very easy to diagnose.

    Statin side effects were certainly real for me. I developed severe muscle spasms in my back. Nothing touched the pain, so several says a week I would be bed ridden, unable to do anything but wait it out. Because I also had bad heartburn and indigestion I thought these were connected.

    Finally, after a year and a half of this, I was sent to the ER with a suspected heart attack by a Chiropractor. He wouldn’t treat me until I got the all clear. At the ER I had an EKG, CT scan, X-ray and blood tests. No heart disease at all. The pain was excruciating, though. Morphine didn’t touch it.

    I went to my MD the next day. She took me off simvastatin, and within 2 weeks the pain was gone. Now I am intermittent fasting, cholesterol is very low. No statins, ever again. By the way, I know three other people who have had statin side effects. These are dangerous drugs.

    This is not the first time I’ve read about the extremely tiny cumulative benefits of statins. I read the same thing in data from the Cochrane review. I can’t understand why so many doctors (and it seems cardiologists in particular) react with such vicious denial. A few days extra life expectancy is hardly worth it to me, especially if those days are lived in continued misery from any of the various side effects possible. How can a doctor justify living with (dying from?) diabetes, for example, as an acceptable trade off for another week of life???

    Based on what I’ve read, there is a relatively small group that MAY benefit from statins, i.e. middle-aged men who’ve had an infarct or are diagnosed with heart disease. Seems to me the extrapolation to prescribing these potent and potentially dangerous drugs to virtually every human being (in the USA at least) seems knee-jerk, unjustified, and a reckless disregard for actual data. I predict that in the future it will come to light that the statin craze is one of the biggest frauds perpetrated on the American public, and NO ONE will be culpable. Remember when ALL women would be healthier and protected from heart disease, and every other sort of malady, through the miracle of hormone replacement? Seems that was all pretty much a fraud too.

    Doctors seem to get angry and annoyed when you try to discuss ANY drugs side effects with them. They tell us to stop reading the internet. The side effects are “rare”. Not true.

    In hopes that my warning may help others before it’s too late, I continued taking the statins despite leg pain and leg weakness b/c my doctors “poo-pooed” my complaints. Finally, the balls of my feet became numb. Still are. Earlier this year, after doing my own research on JAMA and other credible medical research sites (including this one), I tossed the statins for good and I turned the tables on my doctors: I told them off really good, insisting that my symptoms and complaints were not “fake”.

    The SOBs fell like dominoes, admitting that “…well a few people may get severe adverse side effects.” After my diatribe, one P.A. congratulated me for standing up, and told me: “Statins are the medical community’s dirty little secret.” Hello!

    I’m looking for new doctors, but my faith in the medical “profession” has been as severely damaged as my legs. I’ve lost faith.

    Late in 2016, I began taking red yeast rice to lower my total cholesterol and LDL (other levels are normal and my ratio is well below normal ). My glucose level in March 2017 was 118. My PCP recommended nutritional counseling for a “pre-diabetic condition“. When I told the counselor I was taking red yeast rice, she told me to stop taking it as it can raise blood glucose levels. I did so, and the following year my blood glucose was 105. This year it was 95. Even given what I saw as a direct causal link between my statin use and elevated glucose levels, my doctor still wanted to put me on 20 mg of Lipitor this year. I refused, citing multiple journal articles in a lengthy email.

    I am a healthy 63-year-old with no history of heart disease or stroke, a 4% percent lifetime risk of heart attack, and I exercise daily. I would rather have high cholesterol than become a type two diabetic with all its attendant risks .

    Very long story short: I went from an athletic, strong 75-year old to a severely disabled 77-year old man in under two years. The decline was strongly correlated with taking Rosuvastatin. Doctors in general don’t want to hear about this, but my cardiologist didn’t object to taking me off the drug after 5 months. But now, even after being statin-free for over a year, my neuromuscular disablity progresses.

    I was on a statin until I lost about 50 pounds and I was then able to stop taking it. I had taken one for about 3 years. I didn’t know that cataracts could be a side effect.

    I now have cataracts developing in both eyes, and for me it is a big deal. The antibiotic taken before cataract surgery is one that I’m allergic to. Also, the antibiotic drops I’d need to take after each of the two cataract procedures aren’t safe for me either, according to the eye specialist I saw recently. Apparently two of the three antibiotics in the drops used after eye surgery are ones that I’m also allergic to…the antibiotics close my throat.

    I may never be able to have the cataract surgery because of my antibiotic allergies. So if some doctors think that procedure is not a big deal, they are a big deal for some people.

    I have never used statins. However, every drug has the potential to cause some harm or side affect because they are not natural to the body’s systems. I used to take Sudafed for a cold, and often it made me feel weird or off balance, but not to the point of falling. My point is that there is virtually no way they can test most of these drugs to see if they cause long term problems. Since most drugs come with a list of side affects to be aware of, why wouldn’t it be possible for statins to possibly cause some longer term damage that would almost be impossible to discover through testing? After reading the author’s book, “Top Screwups Doctors Make,” I can understand the medical community claiming that any negative news concerning drugs is probably fake. I think it is more the other way around that many drugs themselves are fake and only line the coffers of Big Pharma.

    After being on various statin drugs, I began using Crestor. After a few weeks I developed a serious lower right leg muscle pain. The pain was constant. The pain briefly recurs after being in bed, from sleeping thru the night. It goes away upon arising and moving around.

    I now take repatha for cholesterol control. Thus far, after a few months of its use, no bad side effects have been noticed.

    Supplementing with …ubiquinol , (best form of Coq10), has helped some folks with side effects, as statins can decrease the level of it in the body.

    I was prescribed lipitor several years ago. I took it for two or three days, noticed incipient side-effects, and stopped immediately. My side-effects, while slight, were very real. As soon as I ceased taking the drug, they went away. I have since controlled my cholesterol levels with diet and exercise (the latter I did before the “cholesterol incident). They are “good,” and I am well.

    I suffered from frightening vertigo on a low dose of Crestor. My ears started ringing. After four months of debilitating dizziness making me homebound daily after 5pm, my ENT and I decided to stop the statin. The vertigo halted immediately, but the hearing loss and tinnitus did not. Crestor permanently damaged the nerves in both of my ears.

    My father died from complications of statin use. He had muscle wasting in his legs and became a fall risk and two-person assist. He died at a young age (77) while still taking a daily statin.

    I believe that we will look back in horror on this medical snowball created by the pharma conglomerates. Now they want to have it prescribed to children. Shocking.

    I was prescribed 80 mg atorvastinin at age 79 May 2018 to slow growth of plaque in my moderate carotid stenosis. The 80 mg caused extreme muscle pains all over. My doctor reduced dosage to 20 mg which helped, but still had pains. In June 2019 at age 80, the pains became intolerable, and my cognitive functions were declining. I took myself off the statin, and within 5 days my muscle pains were gone & my thinking back to normal. I felt 10 years younger.

    My doctor and my vascular surgeon admitted I really didn’t need the statin. My lipid panel counts are good. I found studies which said that statins can cause serious side effects in patients over 75 like me. I’ve been on warfarin blood thinners since January because of DVT associated with hairy-cell leukemia, still active July 2019. Stopping the statin caused my Protime INR to jump to dangerously high 4.7 from the 2.5 it’s been for years. I had to skip one dose, and he reduced my war warfarin 15% which brought INR now down to 2.0. I expect it to be below 2.0 next test & he’ll put me on the same dosage I had for many years.

    Warfarin is my only prescription now. I have osteoarthritis in both knees, but walk my 2 shelties every morning without pain. I was a long-distance runner, mountain biker & rollerblader for over 25 years, but with one titanium hip and a titanium nail in femur in other leg due to fall on ice Feb 2019 breaking femur, I now just walk. To those over age 75, I say be cautious about taking statins. They did a number on my health.

    All one needs to know on this subject is given in the following book(s). The first authors are a husband wife team. He had problems with these drugs so wife advised doing some research. His response was the medical community knows what they are doing, so he worked with for two years and no relief from symptoms. That is when he and his wife did research the subject (he was a retired corporate executive), resulting in the first book below.
    The second book I abtained as confirmation as it is from a NASA Doctor.

    https://www.amazon.com/Statin-Drugs-Really-Lower-Cholesterol/dp/0615618170
    https://www.amazon.com/Statin-Damage-Crisis-Duane-Graveline-dp-0983383553/dp/0983383553/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1564480890

    I invite any doubting doctor to witness the leg cramps I suffer from having taken statins. It awakens me in the night with cramps anywhere from my thighs to my feet. Two weeks ago I was awakened at 2:30 a.m. and remained up until daylight with the cramping. Sometimes, I beg God to just take me the pain is so bad. I stopped taking the statins four years ago. Both my cardiologist and my internist tried every statin on the market. I discovered dill pickles at my granddaughter’s volleyball game one night and tried eating a dill pickle before bed each night and it was working, until my blood pressure shot up. I have heart failure so I cannot use the dills any more.

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