Understanding Statins
Understanding Statins

Statins are cholesterol lowering drugs. Find out more about how they work, if you should take them and if they cause side effects

Concerned about statins?

If you have concerns about statins, please contact our Cholesterol Helpline or download our statins factsheet.

You can also visit our page on side effects or our popular Q and A's.

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Statin Side Effects

Statins are safe, effective and generally very well tolerated and have been used for more than 20 years as a cholesterol-lowering treatment.

Statins have been widely tested in good quality long term clinical trials involving tens of thousands of patients.  The number of side effects in these studies was low with no significant differences between the groups of patients taking the statin and those taking a placebo (dummy pill).

However all medicines can cause side effects in some people at some time.  You can find out more about possible side and how often these can occur by reading the through the patient information leaflet inside your medicine packet.  In the UK, the most frequently prescribed statins are atorvastatin and simvastatin, but you may have been presecribed other statins such as  fluvastatin, pravastatin and rosuvastatin.  Take a look at our information page on understanding your cholesterol-lowering statin medication here.

Side effects can vary between statins and the amount of the statin taken (dose).  Some people appear to more sensitive to statins than others.

Muscle pain

Statins can occasionally cause swelling and tenderness in the muscles and in a very few cases lead to muscle damage.  If significant muscle damage occurs the main symptom is usually a generalised flu like ache rather than a localised muscle pain.  If you have unexplained muscle pain it is best to speak to your doctor.  They can carry out a simple blood test to look for a muscle enzyme (creatine kinase or CK) which is found in higher amounts when your muscles are damaged or inflammed.

If you have appropriate symptoms and your level of CK is higher than normal (and cannot otherwise be explained) your doctor is likely to stop your statin.  Once you are back to normal, your doctor may suggest you restart the statin but at a lower dose or even that you take one tablet every other day.    Your doctor may decide to change your statin to a different one or occasionally consider other cholesterol-lowering medications or referral to a lipid clinic.

Other side effects

If you experience any other problems that you think may be linked to your medicine it is important to report these to your doctor who can advise you what to do and can report any unusual side effects to the relevant agencies.  It is possible, especially when starting a new medicine, to associate an unrelated symptom with the drug, but if at all concerned it is best to seek the advice of your health professional.

Benefit versus the risk of side effects from statins

While the thought of taking a statin may be worrying it is important to understand the very real benefits statins do provide.  Analysis of over 90,000 patients who took part in 14 randomised controlled trials over 5 years shows that statins can safely reduce the risk of a (possible fatal) heart attack or stroke.  For every 1 mmol/l reduction in cholesterol doctors were able to show a reduction in major events (such as a heart attack or stroke) by about one fifth (20%)¹. HEART UK - the Cholesterol Charity have a factsheet on Statins which you can download.

Find our commonly asked questions about statins. You can also find more information from NICE about how to make the right choice for you when offered a statin by your doctor here.

Watch► Dr Handrean Soran discuss Statin Safety & Side Effects for High Cholesterol

Dr Handrean Soran discuss Statin Safety & Side Effects for High Cholesterol

Cholesterol Helpline 0345 450 5988

HEART UK offer a Cholesterol Helpline offering expert, impartial and friendly advice from specialist cardiac nurses and dietitians on any concerns you may have about your cholesterol levels, statin medication and other cholesterol lowering treatments.  You can call, email or write, click here all the details on our Cholesterol Helpline.

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