What causes statin side effects?

It's unclear what causes statin side effects, especially muscle pain.

Statins work by slowing your body's production of cholesterol. Your body produces all the cholesterol it needs by digesting food and producing new cells on its own. When this natural production is slowed, your body begins to draw the cholesterol it needs from the food you eat, lowering your total cholesterol.

Statins may affect not only your liver's production of cholesterol but also several enzymes in muscle cells that are responsible for muscle growth. The effects of statins on these cells may be the cause of muscle aches.

How to relieve statin side effects

To relieve statin side effects, your doctor may recommend several options. Discuss these steps with your doctor before trying them:

  • Take a brief break from statin therapy. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the muscle aches or other problems you're having are statin side effects or just part of the aging process. Taking a break can help you determine whether your aches and pains are due to statins instead of something else.
  • Switch to another statin drug. It's possible, although unlikely, that one particular statin may cause side effects for you while another statin won't. It's thought that simvastatin (Zocor) may be more likely to cause muscle pain as a side effect than other statins when it's taken at high doses.
  • Change your dose. Lowering your dose may reduce some of your side effects, but it may also reduce some of the cholesterol-lowering benefits your medication has. Another option is to take the medication every other day.
  • Take it easy when exercising. Unaccustomed vigorous exercise might increase the risk of muscle injury in people taking statins. It's best to make changes in your exercise routine more gradually. Exercise causes muscle pain too, so it is sometimes difficult to know if the pain comes from the statin or the exercise in someone who just started an exercise program.
  • Consider other cholesterol-lowering medications. Although statins are the most effective oral medications for lowering your cholesterol, other types of drugs also are available. Sometimes, taking a combination of cholesterol drugs can provide the same result with lower doses of statins.
  • Try coenzyme Q10 supplements. Coenzyme Q10 supplements may help to prevent statin side effects in some people, though more studies are needed to determine any benefits of taking it. Talk to your doctor first to make sure the supplement won't interact with any of your other medications.

Weigh the risks and benefits

Although statin side effects can be annoying, consider the benefits of taking a statin before you decide to stop taking your medication. Remember that statin medications can reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke, and the risk of life-threatening side effects from statins is very low.

Even if your side effects are frustrating, don't stop taking your statin medication for any period of time without talking to your doctor first. Your doctor may be able to come up with an alternative treatment plan that can help you lower your cholesterol without uncomfortable side effects.

April 26, 2016