I have just started taking a statin and my doctor told me to report any muscle pain and memory loss. What are my chances of getting these side effects?
Statins are one of the most common medicines prescribed in the U.S., with more than 35 million people taking them.
Not everybody who takes a statin has side effects, but they tend to be more common in women, seniors, and people with liver or kidney disease. People who drink large amounts of alcohol or who take other medicines that may interact are also at a higher risk.
Statins and Muscle Pain
Statins do cause muscle pain, although the reported prevalence varies from 0.3 to 33% depending on the source. This variation may be due to the different ways muscle pain is described (such as muscle weakness, cramps, or muscle pain) and the fact patients are usually told to “Watch out for muscle problems!”, which tends to lead to an over-reporting of muscle complaints, commonly called the “nocebo” effect. Medical professionals estimate the true occurrence of muscle pain is approximately 50-100 out of 10,000 (0.5-1%) people treated over five years.
On very rare occasions, a life-threatening condition called rhabdomyolysis (rab-doe-my-OL-ih-sis), which is the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue, can occur.
Statins and Memory Loss
The link between statins and memory loss is controversial. Some large studies have shown no effect, and have implied that statins pose no threat and may, in fact, prevent dementia, whereas others found an association between statin use and memory loss and confusion, prompting the FDA to order labeling changes on all statins.
Statins and New-onset Type 2 Diabetes
Taking a statin may increase your blood glucose (sugar) levels which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. People who take a statin are more likely to develop diabetes than people who don’t. However, in most cases, experts consider the benefits outweigh the risks.
Statins and Grapefruit Juice
Grapefruit juice increases blood levels of atorvastatin, lovastatin, and simvastatin, which actually increases the effectiveness of these drugs, but may also increase the risk of side effects. The manufacturer’s advice is to avoid drinking grapefruit juice while taking statins.
Common Side Effects of Statins
The most commonly reported side effects of statins include:
- A headache
- belching or excessive gas
- croaky voice or hoarseness
- difficulty sleeping
- heartburn, indigestion, nausea, or stomach discomfort
- lower back or side pain, tenderness around the eyes or cheekbones
- nasal congestion or stuffiness, or a runny nose
- slight muscle pain
Other side effects, such as liver damage, are rare, and it is not necessary to have ongoing liver tests while you are taking a statin once you have had a baseline liver function test completed.
Statin Warning Signs
Examples of symptoms that might prompt you to see a doctor include:
- Excessive thirst or having to urinate frequently
- Severe confusion or memory impairment
- Unexplained significant joint or muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness
- Unusual fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, pain in your upper abdomen, dark-colored urine, or yellowing of your skin or eyes.
Always consult with your physician or pharmacist before adjusting the dosage or taking any other medication, including over-the-counter or prescription drugs, herbal supplements, or vitamins.
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