Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad cholesterol” because it sticks to the inside of your artery walls. If left unchecked, this can clog up your arteries, starving the heart of oxygen and blood.
Statins are irrefutably an important countermeasure against this harmful process but their impact on the body is not entirely benign.
Statins can induce a number of unpleasant side effects and the severity of these side effects varies from person to person.
A growing number of reports suggest muscles are often the casualty.
According to Harvard Health, the most common are sore or aching muscles in the legs, trunk, or shoulders and upper arms.
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“Some statin users also report muscle weakness, burning, tenderness, stiffness, and cramping,” says the health body.
In randomised placebo-controlled clinical trials, which provide the best evidence about cause and effect, up to 10 percent percent of people reported some kind of muscle symptom while taking a statin.
However, the jury is out on whether statins are a directly attributable cause.
A review of statin clinical trials in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology noted that about the same percentage of people in both groups reported muscle problems, suggesting that the drug did not cause them.
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“Most of the recent headline-grabbing studies about statin side effects were based on observing large groups of people taking statins,” notes Harvard Health.
In these studies, the percentage of statin users who reported muscle problems have ranged from 10 percent to as high as 20 percent.
The highest estimates were recently retracted by the medical journal The BMJ because the authors of the report misinterpreted data from one of the studies and consequently over-estimated statin-related problems.
Nonetheless, you should discuss the benefits and risks of taking statins with your doctor before you start taking the medicine, advises the NHS.
“If you find certain side effects particularly troublesome, talk to the doctor in charge of your care,” advises the health body.
It adds: “Your dose may need to be adjusted or you may need a different type of statin.”
For details of the side effects of a particular statin, check the information leaflet that comes with your medicine.
What other possible side effects are there?
Common side effects include:
- Feeling sick
- Feeling unusually tired or physically weak
- Digestive system problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion or farting
- Sleep problems
- Low blood platelet count.
Types of statins
There are five types of statin available in the UK:
- Atorvastatin (eg Lipitor)
- Simvastatin (eg Zocor)
- Rosuvastatin (eg Crestor)
- Fluvastatin (eg. Lescol)
- Pravastatin (eg Lipostat).
“Your doctor will recommend the statin and the dose which is best for you in your particular circumstances,” explains Bupa.
According to the health body, this will depend on your medical history, and how much your cholesterol needs to come down.
“Some statins lower blood cholesterol more than others. Most people are first prescribed atorvastatin,” it adds.
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