Statins: The nocebo effect could be the cause to your muscle-related side effects

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Statins are drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, are taken by almost eight million people in the UK. The drug has come with its fair share of reports pertaining to side effects. These side effects could be caused by the “nocebo effect” says researchers.

A study published in The BMJ last year found that people who take statins had no differences in muscle symptoms than those who didn’t take statins.

These symptoms included pain, weakness, cramps, or stiffness.

It’s unclear what’s causing the muscle pain, but researchers suspect it could be connected to people’s age and underlying health conditions.

The “nocebo effect” was also hypothesised which involves people expecting to experience muscle pain, and then because of that, experience it.

The researchers evaluated 200 patients who had recently stopped taking statins or were considering stopping due to muscle pain.

The patients were randomly assigned to six 2-month treatment periods during which they either received statins or a placebo.

At the end of the treatment periods, the researchers found no differences in muscle symptoms between those who took statins and those who took placebos.

They also found that the muscle symptoms had no differences in the impact they had on quality of life — mood, ability to walk, work, relationships, and sleep.

Professor from the Imperial College in London, James Philip Howard said: “Patients should be taken seriously when they report side effects, because they are genuinely suffering.

“And patients should also be informed of the nocebo effect when prescribed statins.”

He added that “some of the side effects could also be from the typical aches and pains of getting older”.


Previous trials give good evidence that the “nocebo effect” plays an important role in adverse effects attributed to statins, but exactly how this applies in a wide range of different types of patients is rather less clear.

Research indicates statins are believed to prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes each year in the UK.

Future studies are hoping to investigate symptoms associated with beta-blocker drugs in heart failure patients.

Other side effects reported from statins include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling unusually tired or physically weak
  • Digestive system problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion or farting
  • Sleep problems
  • low blood platelet count.

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