Statin drugs do a good job lowering cholesterol, but they can also cause muscle pain and weakness, and less obvious side-effects such as digestive trouble, liver damage, and memory loss.
Due to its effectiveness, Statin drugs has become a bit common among people with high cholesterol levels. Infact, one in four American who is over 45 has been prescribed a statin drug under various brands name such as Crestor, Altoprev, Lipitor, Livalo etc. They are very frequently prescribed, even over-the-counter in the USA & UK, but what is really known about statin drugs, and perhaps as important, what is unknown? In this article, we explore the Top 5 “known but ignored facts” about statins cholesterol drugs and muscle pain, the most common of the statin side effects.
Statins are a type of drugs used to treat high levels of LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) to prevent the build-up of plaque inside the arteries that supply blood to the heart. If these coronary arteries become too narrowed by extensive plaque, or blocked by blood clots that can suddenly form when a damaged, inside wall of an artery bursts, then it may cause heart muscles to stop pumping or even diet due to lack of oxygen. This is commonly called a heart attack. Doctors tell us that statins ultimately save lives by preventing heart attacks. Believing this, millions of us take the statin drugs on an indefinite daily basis, hoping to extend our lives and do more of the things we love to do.
Considering the life-saving potential of statins, it is not surprising that so many people are willing to endure muscle pain and other side-effects which even includes cancer. What is surprising is how little is understood about how statin drugs actually cause the muscle pain, and what can be done about it. Let’s have a look at Top 5 known but ignored facts about statin drugs and muscle pain.
1. How many people who take statin drugs get muscle pain?
Depends who you ask. The estimates range from as low as 3% to more than 30%. A 2011 review in the Expert Opinion on Drug Safety journal estimated 10-15%.
2. What is the definition of statin myopathy?
Myopathy is a medical term for muscle-related side effects of statin drugs, including pain and weakness. Where do you draw the line between the mild muscle pain and weakness (myalgia), and the more severe forms of myopathy such as myositis and deadly rhabdomyolysis in which muscles tissue can actually disintegrate? Experts are still working that out.
3. How do we accurately measure statin muscle pain?
Tough one. There are several questionnaires available, including the McGill Pain Questionnaire which asks people whether their muscle pain feels flickering, pulsing, throbbing, pounding, shooting, pricking, stabbing, etc. Even using this one questionnaire, different people with exactly the same muscle pain may give different answers. Now consider that different researchers use different questionnaires, and you can begin to appreciate the problem of objectively and accurately measuring muscle pain caused by statins.
4. How exactly do statins cause muscle pain?
We thought we knew, but we really didn’t. Statins prevent the liver from making cholesterol (the intended effect), but they also interfere with the production of other important substances that muscles and lots of other organs need (the unintended, or “side” effects). Some of these other important substances are called lipids (the specific names of which few of us have ever heard), and another is called co-enzyme Q10 (or CoQ10 which would be familiar to many more of us). CoQ10 is involved in the production of bioenergy, and muscles need a lot of bio-energy. The idea was that statins decrease CoQ10 in muscles, and that leads to less bioenergy, causing weakness and eventually muscle pain. As reasonable as this may sound, it has not been definitively demonstrated in clinical trials after decades of research. Many doctors will tell you that CoQ10 can’t hurt, and it could help, so why not try it instead of going off the statin drugs. There are a few other theories of why statins cause muscle pain, but the bottom line is that we just don’t know.
5. Why do statins cause muscle pain in some people, but not others?
Your risk of experiencing muscle pain from statin drugs is determined by complex variables, most of which you can’t do anything about. These include your genetic background, your age, whether you are male or female, how big your body frame is, and how frail or robust you are. It also depends on what other diseases you may have and what other medications you may be taking. Still, there’s no way of knowing this known unknown without good, old-fashioned trial and error.
So there you have our top 5 known but ignored facts about statins and muscle pain. We hope you enjoyed reading and maybe even found it informative. Perhaps next time we’ll venture into the more common ignore facts about latest medicine and treatments trends. Wait, can we do that? Please let us know what you think by leaving your comments in the form below. Until next time… all the best to your health!