Statin Side Effects: The Benefits and Risks 
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, August 18, 2015 12:00 AM

Doctors often prescribe statins for people with high cholesterol to lower their total cholesterol and reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke. Most people taking statins will take them for the rest of their lives unless they can achieve normal cholesterol levels through diet, exercise, weight loss and nutritional supplements. The most common statin side effect is muscle pain. This pain may be felt as a soreness, tiredness or weakness in the muscles. The pain can be a mild discomfort, or it can be severe enough to make daily activities difficult. For example, you might find climbing stairs or walking to be uncomfortable or tiring.

Statins can cause life-threatening muscle damage called rhabdomyolysis (rab-doe-mi-OL-ih-sis). Rhabdomyolysis can cause severe muscle pain, liver damage, kidney failure and death. Rhabdomyolysis can occur when taking statins in combination with certain drugs or if taking a high dose of statins. Occasionally, statin use could cause the liver to increase its production of enzymes that help digest food, drinks and medications. Some people taking a statin may develop nausea, gas, diarrhea or constipation after taking a statin. 

Some can develop a rash or flushing after starting a statin. If taking a statin and niacin, either in a combination pill such as Simcor or as two separate medications, this side effect is more likely.

It's possible that blood sugar (blood glucose) level may increase when taking a statin, which may lead to developing type 2 diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning on statin labels regarding blood glucose levels and diabetes.

The FDA warns on statin labels that some people have developed memory loss or confusion while taking statins. These side effects reverse once one stops taking the medication. 

Not everyone who takes a statin will have side effects, but some people may be at a greater risk than are others. Risk factors include:

  • Taking multiple medications to lower your cholesterol

  • Being female

  • Having a smaller body frame

  • Being age 65 or older

  • Having kidney or liver disease

  • Having type 1 or 2 diabetes

  • Drinking too much alcohol (More than two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger and more than one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than 65)

Statins work by slowing the body's production of cholesterol. The 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.

Statins can have several potentially dangerous interactions with other medications and some foods. These interactions can make it more likely you'll have statin side effects. 

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.