Statins are one of the most popular classes of prescription drugs. These potentially life-saving medications have some important medical uses, but the downside is that they could also cause muscle pain or muscle cramps—also known as statin-induced muscle pain. Millions of people must consider whether the potential benefits outweigh the risk of this side effect. Let’s dive deeper and find out why statins can cause muscle pain and what you can do to avoid it.
- Why do people take statins?
- Why do some people experience muscle pain with statins?
- Is muscle pain a side effect of all statins?
- Can muscle pain from statins be dangerous or life-threatening?
- Does muscle pain from statins go away?
- What are my options if a statin is causing unbearable muscle pain?
- Top Ways To Get Off Statin Drugs
- Top Ways to Get Off Statin Drugs
- Statin Drugs Side Effects
- Getting Off Statin Drugs
- Consult your doctor
- Adopt a better diet
- Watch your weight
- Get proper sleep
- Take supplements
- Drink red wine and fruit juices
- Consume Flaxseeds
- Discontinue statin use
- Switch to another cholesterol medication
- Statins, how to come off safely? – Cholesterol Support
- Top 6 Safety Tips for Stopping Your Meds
- 1. Talk to Your Doctor First
- 2. Discuss Your Medications With Your Doctor
- 3. Stop for the Right Reason
- 4. Ask Your Doctor How to Best Stop Your Medication.
- 5. Learn Your Medicine Side Effects if You Quickly Stop.
- 6. Chart Your Discontinuation Plan
- See Also
- Further information
- Everything you need to know about coming off statins
- Findings a Wake-Up Call
- Why I Talked My Husband Out of Taking Statins
Why do people take statins?
Statins keep your body from making as much cholesterol, but they are also useful for other reasons. People who are at high risk for heart disease benefit from statins because these drugs help reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from events like heart attacks and strokes. It’s estimated that almost a third of adults older than 40 years old take a statin medication!
Statins approved in the U.S.
If you’re prescribed a statin, it’s important to take it. But it turns out, some patients may find that challenging because of a certain side effect: muscle pain.
Why do some people experience muscle pain with statins?
You should know upfront that not everyone who takes a statin will have muscle pain, and muscle pain from statins might show up differently for different people. For example, you could feel muscle weakness, soreness, aches, stiffness, or cramps. The severity of these side effects can range from mildly irritating to almost unbearable.
The older you are, the more likely you are to experience statin-induced muscle pain. Women, people who are thin, and people who drink large amounts of grapefruit juice are also at a higher risk.
We don’t know for sure why statins cause muscle pain as a side effect, but we’ve got a few ideas.
- Genetics. Certain genes may make it more likely for a patient to experience muscle pain after taking statins.
- Coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a natural substance found in our cells—including our muscle cells—and is important for energy production. Statin medications and low cholesterol levels can both contribute to low CoQ10 levels.
- Calcium leakage. Calcium helps muscles contract, but when calcium leaks from muscle cells unintentionally, it can damage your muscle cells which causes muscle pain. New research shows that statins may increase this unintentional leakage.
Is muscle pain a side effect of all statins?
You might be wondering whether there are any statins that don’t cause muscle pain. Even though all statins look similar chemically, they have some minor differences that could impact how likely they are to cause muscle pain.
Simvastatin is the most likely to cause muscle pain, and fluvastatin and pitavastatin are the least likely. Of course, this isn’t written in stone since it’s possible for any statin to have this effect. Figuring out which statin doesn’t cause muscle pain for you as an individual may require some trial and error.
Can muscle pain from statins be dangerous or life-threatening?
If you notice that your muscle pain is accompanied by dark-colored, brownish urine, get medical attention right away. This could be a sign of a serious condition called rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown) that can lead to kidney failure and death.
Does muscle pain from statins go away?
In most cases, if you’re going to have muscle pain from statins, you will notice it as soon as you start taking the medication. If you can tolerate the discomfort, it’s a good idea to keep taking the statin as prescribed for at least 2 to 3 weeks. The side effect may go away after your body gets used to the medication.
It’s also true that even someone who’s been taking a statin for years without issue can suddenly develop muscle pain, cramps, weakness, or soreness. Granted, it’s difficult to tell if those muscle-related side effects are directly linked to the statin or if they’re caused by other health conditions.
If you decide to stop taking a statin, any related muscle pain will usually go away within a week. If the pain doesn’t goes away, it may have been caused by something else.
What are my options if a statin is causing unbearable muscle pain?
If you find yourself unable to tolerate your statin because of its effects on your muscles, you have a few options to resolve the problem:
1) Ask a pharmacist to review your entire medication regimen.
Many drugs and supplements can interact with statins and raise the levels of statins in your body. If statin levels increase, you are more likely to have muscle-related side effects. Asking your pharmacist to review your medication regimen helps ensure there aren’t any drug interactions that could be causing your pain.
2) Ask your provider about trying a different statin.
Let your healthcare provider know ASAP if you begin to have muscle pain while taking a statin medication. She will likely do a physical exam and run tests to see whether the statin is actually the cause. If so, she may ask you to take a break from the statin or switch to another one to see if the muscle pain improves.
Interestingly enough, just because you experience muscle pain with one statin doesn’t mean you’ll experience it with others. Unless you had a life-threatening reaction to a statin, it’s probably a good idea to try another statin or two before writing all of them off.
3) Try a coenzyme Q10 supplement along with your statin.
Remember earlier when we mentioned that muscle pain might be caused by lack of CoQ10 in the body? Well, to address that issue, some patients are taking CoQ10 supplements along with their statins. The jury’s still out on whether CoQ10 supplements are actually helpful, but if you and your doctor think it may be worth a try, go for it.
4) Consider an alternative cholesterol-lowering medication.
While statins are among the most effective medications for getting your cholesterol under control, they certainly aren’t the only options. Ask your doctor whether it may be appropriate for you to try another cholesterol-lowering medication, like ezetimibe (Zetia), niacin (Niaspan), or fenofibrate (Trilipix).
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Top Ways To Get Off Statin Drugs
Top Ways to Get Off Statin Drugs
Statin drugs are a class of prescription drugs used to prevent heart attacks and strokes by lowering cholesterol levels. Even though healthy people use them for prevention, they’re mainly recommended for people with cardiovascular disease. Statins are also used to reduce cholesterol level in children with familial hypercholesterolemia.
There are different varieties of statins available in the market and they’re divided into two groups as shown below:
- High-intensity statin drugs. These include atorvastatin and rosuvastatin.
- Moderate-intensity statin drugs. These include fluvastatin, lovastatin, pitavastatin, pravastatin, and simvastatin.
All these drugs are effective and function in a similar manner. However, our bodies respond differently to each type. So it’s advisable to find one that your body responds best to.
Statin Drugs Side Effects
Like almost every other drug, statins also have side effects. There are:
- Muscle pain and soreness.
- Rhabdomyolysis which is a condition in which the muscles are damaged.
- An increased risk of diabetes mellitus.
- Inhibition of the enzyme that facilitates the production of cholesterol in the liver.
- Probable liver damage.
- Confusion and memory loss.
With time, these side effects may get better. There is also the option of changing your dose or switching to other varieties of the drug. Eating the grapefruit or taking grape juice increases the severity of the side effect. Grapes interfere with the drug’s break down, causing it to build up in the blood.
Once you stop using the statin drugs, the body functioning will return back to normal. Some side effects take a day while others take several weeks or even months.
Getting Off Statin Drugs
You definitely don’t want to be using statin for the rest of your life. This is mainly because of the side effects associated with its use. When you get off statins entirely, you will need to switch to different cholesterol regulating drugs or adopt a better lifestyle.
Below are top 10 ways to help you stop taking statin drugs:
Consult your doctor
You need to let the doctor who prescribed the statin drugs for you know about your intentions to quit. This is so that they can review you and recommend the best action to take. Your physician will then walk you through all the available alternatives in regards to the lifestyle changes you can make before you stop taking the statin drugs.
Make sure to get their permission before you quit. After giving their approval on your intentions, your doctor will then help you put together a plan to guide you through the journey. Let them know of your expected targets in the lifestyle modification program.
Maintain a good relationship with your doctor and always keep them updated on your progress. You could also ask your doctor to recommend a reputable dietician who will help you create a diet plan.
Adopt a better diet
Your motto for a healthy diet should be fork over knives. Changing your diet is not a hard thing. The hard part is actually following through with it.
Add more leafy greens like spinach to your diet. A plant-based diet will effectively cleanse your body and rid it of any excess fat. It is almost impossible to exceed the set caloric intake by consuming fruits and vegetables.
You need to remove carbohydrates, sugars and animal proteins from your diet. Replace them with plant proteins such as lentils.
Make sure that your daily cholesterol does not exceed 200mg and that the saturated fats do not exceed 7% of your total dietary calories. For adults, the calorie intake should be between 1500 (for women) and 1800 (for men).
Also, eat more foods that are fortified with either psyllium or phytosterols and those that contain natural soluble fiber. Barley and oat are examples of foods rich in natural soluble fiber and have been proven to mildly lower cholesterol levels.
It is recommended that you work out for at least five times in a week. Each daily work out should last a minimum of 30 minutes.
I cannot overemphasize on the importance of taking regular walks. It is a great way to exercise as it works your hips and back without putting too much pressure on your legs and knees. You could also incorporate some jogging and running if you enjoy doing it.
Other forms of exercise that are recommended are playing tennis, riding a bicycle, and ballroom dancing. For those who go to the gym, they could try weight lifting.
Watch your weight
Your BMI (body mass index) should always be below 25. Body mass index is a representation of your total body weight in relation to fat, as a percentage.
If you are planning to stop taking statin drugs or already have, it is advisable to lose some weight. Set a target and work towards achieving it.
Make sure to maintain an ideal body weight and not to gain any weight.
Get proper sleep
Unlike popular belief, six hours of sleep are not enough. It is recommended that one gets around eight to 10 hours of sleep daily. When one is well rested, their stress levels are generally low.
Lack of enough sleep will cause the liver to produce more cholesterol than normal.
The most common natural supplements are vitamin B3 (niacin) and Omega-3 fatty acids which we get from fish oil. These two have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
The omega-3 fatty acids have an analgesic effect on aching joint. However, do not overuse niacin as it could have some harmful effects on the heart.
There are other supplements that can be added to your diet to help reduce cholesterol. An example is Mevastatin which is produced by red rice yeast.
Drink red wine and fruit juices
Red wine contains an antioxidant called resveratrol which helps to keep your heart healthy. Taking a single glass of wine daily, for three days a week will help a great deal with cholesterol reduction.
Foods that contain pectin such as apples and grapes play a major role in eliminating cholesterol.
Flaxseeds contain ingredients that aid in keeping your heart healthy. Your heart’s rhythm will be more stabilized.
The flaxseeds contain the plant version of omega-3 fatty acids called lignans. These lignans have antioxidant properties and contain estrogen found in plants. They also contain soluble and insoluble fiber.
Discontinue statin use
Feel free to stop using the statin drugs as soon as the therapeutic effects of the above lifestyle changes start taking effect. This will be after a period of approximately two months. Your doctor will test the lipid levels in your blood and give a go ahead.
Stopping use of statin drugs can be done in two ways. One is where you wean yourself off statins and the second is the cold turkey where you”just stop” taking the medication abruptly. The second option increases your chances of stroke.
When your body is used to you taking a particular drug for long, there will be consequences when you discontinue use. These consequences can either manifest themselves as withdrawal symptoms or worsened side effects.
The “cold turkey” syndrome has some withdrawal symptoms which include:
- Mild tangling in the face and hands
- Dizziness and tiredness
- Muscle and joint pain
- Irritability and depression
- Blurred vision
- Poor concentration
- Memory loss
It is therefore advisable to wean off slowly.
Switch to another cholesterol medication
There are different drugs can take statin’s place in terms of functionality and keep your cholesterol levels within safe levels. Look into the various non-statin drugs that are used to. Examples of non-statin drugs include ezetimibe, niacin and cholestyramine.
Have another blood test done in two month’s time to check the levels of lipids in the blood. Monitor your cholesterol levels to make sure the changes you’ve made are producing the necessary effects.
Statin drugs are usually the most effective drugs among all the available cholesterol-lowering medications. They have numerous documented benefits which sometimes might outweigh the side effects associated with them. So before you stop using statin drugs, remember that taking them does not produce life-threatening side effects while discontinuation might.
Whatever your reason is for wanting to stop taking the statin drugs, it’s really important that you first get your doctor’s opinion. When they give a go ahead, they will suggest a plan to guide you. Doctors advise that if you have a history of heart attack or stroke, you should not stop taking statins.
Lastly, make sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle for more permanent results in keeping your cholesterol levels under control. This is because discontinuation will put you at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Statins, how to come off safely? – Cholesterol Support
My cardiologist did not want me to come off of statins. I was experiencing side-effects (my left shoulder seized up and I couldn’t move my rotator cuff) and I had made a major lifestyle change, plus had been reading medical studies on a daily basis and determined that I didn’t need statins due to my committed lifestyle change.
My original dose was 30 mg of Crestor. I did not approach the issue with a specific timeline in mind. Instead my approach was to test my bloodwork every 6 weeks to see if my lifestyle change was improving my lipid profile – triglycerides, LDL-C, HDL-C, non-HDL etc…If my blood work improved, I would cut the dosage by 5 mg since my pills were 5 mg. each in size.
Unrelated to this, and during the weaning period, I experienced of couple of minor illnesses that required antibiotics which delayed the weaning. This is because blood test results for cholesterol are distorted when taking antibiotics.
I began in January of 2016 and had completely weaned and took my final statin pill in mid-October 2016.
My first blood test 6 weeks after my final dose, showed a major rebound in elevated cholesterol levels which prompted my family doctor to call me at home when he saw the results. When he questioned what I was doing, I explained that it was likely the ‘rebound effect’ of coming off the statins. He wasn’t aware of the ‘rebound effect’ which I had learned about when reading medical journals and studies.
Since my various ratios when comparing LDL to overall TC and, LDL relative to HDL were all excellent, he agreed with my decision but suggested that I should retest in 2 months to confirm the results.
At that follow up blood test, my cholesterol levels began to fall again, but not to the levels that I had while on statins. I stuck to my new lifestyle program and each subsequent test my cholesterol levels have continued to fall. My current levels are nearly optimal had I been a ‘normal’ person without bypass surgery in 2015. However, since I have had bypass surgery in my early 50s, my cardiologist wants to bring my LDL-C levels as low as possible.
My own research says that Apo-B which is a proxy measure for the number of LDL particles (LDL-P) instead of the volume of LDL which is the LDL-C value, measured by doctors, is more indicative of cardiovascular risk. In the meantime, I also discovered several other blood tests that provide a more complete picture of cardiovascular health and risk of heart attack or stroke. After taking these tests several times and noting both absolute levels and improvement from one test to the next, I determined that my risk for heart attack and stroke were low and with my lifestyle change, I didn’t see the logic in taking statins which have the potential for major side-effects.
I have changed my periodic blood testing to once every 3 months and am due for my test next week. I will post my blood work results in a new posting for everybody to see.
If you have not yet read all of my previous posts, I encourage you to read them:
By the way, the elevated risk of heart attack and stroke when weaning from statins is due to increased platelet ‘stickiness’. Have your husband take a blood test and check his fibrinogen level, as well as the homocysteine level. An 80 mg daily dose of aspirin, will help in reducing this stickiness factor as well as some supplements.
“Platelet aggregation inhibitors include aspirin, curcumin (found in turmeric), green tea, ginkgo, and vitamins C and E. But to lower elevated fibrinogen levels directly, look to vitamin A (which helps to break down fibrinogen), beta carotene, and fish or olive oil.” blog.wellnessfx.com/2013/09…
Homocysteine increases fibrinogen levels and you can reduce homocysteine by using vitamin B6 and Folic Acid.
Top 6 Safety Tips for Stopping Your Meds
Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD Last updated on Feb 12, 2019.
Stopping your medication abruptly may not only adversely affect your condition, it can be flat out dangerous.
1. Talk to Your Doctor First
Many factors need to be considered before you stop any medication that has been prescribed for you, that’s why it is so important to talk to your doctor first.
Discontinuing a medication abruptly can often be associated with unpleasant side effects and worsening of symptoms based on your drug treatment, its chemistry profile, and how your drug is broken down (metabolized) and excreted from your body.
Ideally, talk to your doctor about how, when (and if) to stop a drug when it is first prescribed.
2. Discuss Your Medications With Your Doctor
Roughly 40 percent of people over the age of 60 take at least five prescription drugs, including medications they no longer need. Some medications — like sleeping pills — should only be used short-term. How about allergy medications that are only needed in the spring or fall? Did you lose those few extra pounds? If so, maybe your blood pressure has dropped back into the normal range and you don’t need as much medication to manage your hypertension. Should you continue with your stronger painkiller, or can you back down to a milder NSAID?
Any of these can be reasons to discontinue your medication, if okayed by your doctor. You may save on monthly health care costs, too. But you need to have that conversation with your doctor first, and you may need to start that conversation.
3. Stop for the Right Reason
According to a report from CVS Caremark, half of patients taking maintenance medications for chronic conditions will stop taking them within the first year of starting therapy. This non-adherence results in roughly a $300 million charge to health care costs per year. Non-adherence can lead to worsening of chronic conditions, increased hospitalizations, and overall worsened outcomes.
If you feel better after taking a medication, say an antidepressant or arthritis medication, your symptoms can return when you stop taking the medication. In addition, some conditions, like hypertension and high cholesterol, have no real symptoms at all, lessening the chance you’ll stick with your meds. Many people think they can stop their treatment when they feel better, but this is usually not the case. Not only will your condition worsen, you may experience side effects from abrupt medication withdrawal.
If you read or hear news from the media about your medication that is concerning to you, do not stop your medication before you speak to your healthcare provider. The news reports, including those from social media, may be unfounded, or the particular concern may not be relevant to your condition.
4. Ask Your Doctor How to Best Stop Your Medication.
Some drugs can be stopped immediately without a special discontinuation schedule, but many medications require a taper, which is a slow reduction in dose or frequency over a longer period of time, usually 2 to 6 weeks; or in some cases longer.
Slow tapers help to avoid disagreeable side effects that you might experience if you stopped the drug quickly.
If you are stopping several medications, you may want to taper them one at a time to avoid added side effects — check with your doctor.
5. Learn Your Medicine Side Effects if You Quickly Stop.
For example, abruptly stopping some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants prescribed to boost your mood — like Paxil (paroxetine) or Zoloft (sertraline) — can lead to a host of disturbing side effects, such as anxiety, dizziness, upset stomach, or fatigue. This is called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Not everyone experiences this antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, only about 1 in 5 people. It is not usually dangerous, and will usually subside in a few days depending upon your drug, but there are ways to lessen its effect.
Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome may be more common with certain antidepressants that stay in your body for a shorter period of time, although longer-acting antidepressants may cause withdrawal, as well. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can occur with many antidepressants, not just the SSRIs.
Examples of common antidepressants that can lead to antidepressant discontinuation syndrome include:
Some patients want to stop taking their cholesterol medicines known as statins due to bothersome side effects like muscle pain, liver damage or memory problems. Statins include medicines like atorvastatin (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor). But before you stop your statin, talk to your doctor about your side effects. Many people complain of side effects with these drugs and there may be an alternative plan. A change of dosage, a different statin, or even a different type of cholesterol medication might be helpful. These drugs are important heart medications and can be life-saving by lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
6. Chart Your Discontinuation Plan
If you are started on a new medication, you should ask several questions of your doctor and record the responses for future reference, including:
- Your dose and schedule
- Your expected outcomes
- Common side effects, including if the drug is abruptly stopped
- Cost of your drug and generic availability
- How long are you are going to take the medication?
You may need to switch drugs due to side effects or lack of effectiveness. If you are switching from one medication to another in the same class, you can usually switch drugs immediately or start the new drug at a lower dose while slowly tapering off of the first drug. However, this is not always the case, so you must consult with your prescribing doctor, especially if the drugs are from different classes.
Table 1: Important Classes to Avoid Abrupt Withdrawal
Drug Class or Drug Example Drugs Side Effect Risks Antidepressants Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Venlafaxine (Effexor) Panic, agitation, worsened depression, nightmares, confusion insomnia, Antipsychotics Aripiprazole (Abilify), clozapine (Clozaril), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel) Severe relapse of symptoms, anxiety, withdrawal dyskinesia or dystonia (involuntary muscle movement), parkinsonian symptoms, neuroleptic malignant syndrome Benzodiazepines alprazolam (Xanax), oxazepam, temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion) Abrupt discontinuation can be serious; seizures, anxiety, rebound insomnia, tremors, nausea, heart palpitations, hallucinations Corticosteroids Cortisol, Prednisone Pain, fatigue, low blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, depression, nausea, vomiting HMG Co-A Reductase Inhibitors (Statins) atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), simvastatin (Zocor) Possible rapid rise in C reactive protein (CRP) and LDL cholesterol levels; worsening of heart disease risks Insomnia Medications (for sleep) eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), zolpidem (Ambien), Anxiety, rebound insomnia, muscle cramps, nausea, seizures Lithium lithium Mood instability, manic relapse Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), Rebound heartburn Hormone therapy estrogen (Premarin), estrogen with progestin (Prempro) Menopausal symptoms, hot flashes, flushing, sweating Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs NSAIDs aspirin, celecoxib (Celebrex), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) Increased risk of heart attack due to blood clotting (aspirin); rebound headaches (NSAIDs) Opioids codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, tramadol Agitation, irritation, chills, shivering, cramps, diarrhea, insomnia, muscle pain
Table 1 adapted from “When (and how) to stop taking a drug” Consumers Reports, November 2010
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Everything you need to know about coming off statins
A person may want to come off statins for various reasons. Some common examples include:
According to the American College of Cardiology, around 85–90% of people who take statins do not experience any side effects.
As with all drugs, however, a small minority of people experience mild to severe side effects when taking statins.
The adverse effects that they most commonly experience are muscle problems and a slightly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, which we cover in more detail below.
Share on PinterestA person taking statins may experience muscle pains, tenderness, or weakness.
Some people who take statins report having muscle pains, tenderness, or weakness. Statins may, in rare cases, damage the muscles.
If a person taking statins is having muscle aches, pains, or weakness, and they cannot link these symptoms to an obvious cause, such as exercise or physical labor, they should speak to a doctor.
A doctor can test the creatine kinase (CK) levels in their blood. The body releases CK when the muscles are damaged or inflamed. If a person has a high CK level, a doctor may advise stopping statin treatment.
Type 2 diabetes
Hyperglycemia, or increased blood sugar, is a potential side effect of statins. A person may hesitate about taking statins if they have concerns about their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A review from 2019 reported a slightly increased risk of newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes among people taking this type of medication.
The risk is highest among people with prediabetes. Taking statins increases type 2 diabetes risk by 0.2% for each year that a person takes the medication.
In a person with normal baseline blood glucose levels, statins are highly unlikely to cause diabetes. The benefits of taking statins to prevent a cardiac event usually outweigh the risk of developing diabetes.
Some lifestyle changes can help people manage their cholesterol levels. Examples include exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a balanced diet.
However, people who adopt these lifestyle changes should not assume that they can stop taking statins. To determine whether this is the case, a doctor can use blood tests to check that cholesterol levels are within a healthy range.
Women who are pregnant or planning for pregnancy should talk to their doctors about coming off statins.
In 2019, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a review that included an investigation of the safety of statins during pregnancy.
None of the featured studies had identified a link between statin use and fetal developmental abnormalities.
However, the studies had examined very few cases of statin use during pregnancy, so the authors of the review were unable to rule out the risk.
Therefore, the AHA caution against the use of statins during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Other side effects
Some people have concerns about statins increasing their risk of cancer or dementia or other neurocognitive problems.
There is no research to suggest that statins increase these risks.
While some people may develop dementia or cancer while taking statins, it is often because their risk of these conditions has increased with age.
Findings a Wake-Up Call
Asselbergs and colleagues studied 566 people who had been enrolled in a study pitting the cholesterol-lowering statin drug Pravachol against placebo.
Four years into the study those on Pravachol had:
- a 16% drop in CRP
- a 27% decrease in LDL “bad” cholesterol levels
In contrast, those on placebo had:
- a 4% increase in CRP
- Stable levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol
But when the participants on pravastatin stopped their medication, both CRP and LDL “bad” cholesterol shot up to pretreatment levels.
James H. Stein, MD, co-chairman of the cardiology meeting and associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison, says the findings are a wake-up call.
“I can’t tell you how many people say they feel better and want to stop their medication,” he tells WebMD.
“While it might seem like common sense that you would get worse if you do that, many people don’t believe it,” Stein says. “A study like this shows us the magnitude of how bad things can really get.”
Stein moderated a news conference to release the findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.
Why I Talked My Husband Out of Taking Statins
By Suzanne Robotti, Founder/President, MedShadow, Special to Everyday Health
Statins are so universally popular with doctors that I’ve heard one claim “they” should put “statins in the drinking water.” Statins lower cholesterol which is a good thing because high cholesterol can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. Heart attacks are the No. 1 killer in the US for men and women. So why was I so determined to get my husband Bob to stop taking them?
In Bob’s case, the doctor had suggested he start on statins as a precaution — as a sedentary, middle-aged man with slightly high cholesterol, it was well within the guidelines. There was no discussion of losing weight or eating more healthfully, either of which might have lowered his cholesterol naturally. To be fair, it’s possible the doctor did suggest it and Bob didn’t listen.
The statins worked great. Without changing his lifestyle one bit, Bob’s cholesterol dropped to within normal limits. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!
But statins are not side-effect free. Complaints of memory loss and muscle aches are common. Bob’s brain was very important to me and I watched him carefully for signs of memory loss. Casually I’d ask, “Bob, what was name of the street we lived on when we were in Fleetwood?” or “What’s your mom’s telephone number again?” Pretty soon he was accusing me of dementia!
About two years of taking statins, I noticed him rubbing the top of his thighs. He acknowledged that his muscles ached. That’s when my campaign to stop statins started in earnest. Muscle aches are not only the No. 1 side effect of statins, but severe muscle aches can indicate the onset of myositis (an inflammation of the muscles) or an even more serious condition called rhabdomyolysis (destruction of muscle cells), which is the destruction of muscle cells and can result in potentially life-threatening kidney injury. Both are rare, but not unheard of. (For a more complete information on side effects see Need to Know: Statins)
I had just started a nonprofit, MedShadow Foundation. Our mission is to educate the public about the side effects of medicines. On our site, I started researching statins more carefully. I found that initially statins were only approved for people who had a first heart attack in order to prevent a second. It wasn’t long before doctors started prescribing statins for those at high risk of a second heart attack. And under the 2013 new guidelines, nearly 40% of all American adults qualify to take statins.
But some researchers are questioning just how effective statins are. Without question, they lower cholesterol, but it hasn’t been proven that lowering cholesterol leads to an increased life expectancy. Mortality from heart attacks have dropped, but many factors could affect that, including smoking cessation, implatable defibrulators and better emergency care. Cardiovascular health is very complicated. Clinical trials of statins are inconsistent with some showing increased mortality, but others not.
This new side effect of muscle aches had us both worried. There are other side effects of statins that even though rare, now seemed more possible: diabetes and liver damage. When Bob called his doctor to ask about stopping statins and try to lower his cholesterol through a better diet, the doctor agreed immediately.
They made a plan to check his cholesterol now and again in six months. In the meantime, Bob changed his diet to add fish and drop desserts, most of the time. He was at an age when many men lose muscle mass and that bothered him, so he voluntarily started going to the gym.
Six months later, Bob’s cholesterol and blood pressure both checked out perfectly – and he’d lost about five pounds. It’s been about five years and his doctor hasn’t suggested statins again.
Statins are usually a lifetime sentence. People who can tolerate them, which is most people, never stop. I worried about the long-term effect of statins on the liver. Livers handle the extra strain of modern medicines well in general. But as we age, most of us will need some drugs to keep us healthy and active. That was my last, but most important reason to stop the statins. The fewer drugs he takes through his lifetime will limit the strain on his liver today. That will allow the drugs he needs in the future to work more effectively.
For many people who are prescribed a statin, it may be necessary. In many cases — like with my husband — they are not necessary. In fact, changes in diet and exercise may be all that is needed to lower cholesterol. Even better, these changes don’t have the negative side effects that statins do.
Someday, diet and exercise may not be enough and Bob may need statins again. I might need them too. I’m glad they and so many other life saving drugs exist. But I believe that medicines are tools that can be overused. As much as possible, I continue to encourage my husband, my family and friends to consider the risks of taking medicines — all of them have side effects. Learn for my husband’s experience — please consider reasonable alternatives before starting on a medicine.