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What are the common side effects of statins?

Like all other drugs, statins can have severe side effects, which get worse with increasing dosage. The most common are muscle damage, liver damage and fatigue. About 30,000 Americans have experienced life-threatening statin side effects.

Dr. Kent A. Holtorf, MD
Endocrinologist

There is an increasing concern about underreported and undiscussed side effects of statins, which include the well-known but often dismissed muscle pain and fatigue, as well as increased risk of depression, memory loss, cataracts and neuropathy (nerve degeneration). Statins are also shown to reduce the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), making thyroid tests unreliable if on a statin. Statins are also shown to reduce immunity, increasing the risk of infections, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as well as reducing the body's ability to repair tissue. New concerns also include evidence that statins increase the risk of developing type II diabetes by nine percent.

Even more concerning is the emerging evidence for significantly increased cancer rates, especially breast cancer, in those taking statins. In one five-year study there was a twelve-fold increase in the incidence of breast cancer in women taking a statin, and other trials are finding that any benefit in reduced cardiovascular mortality may be offset by an increased incidence of cancer. A review study published in the Journal of Cardiology, which included more than 300,000 patient-years, found that the more the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol was reduced, the greater the risk of cancer. Those who achieved an LDL level below 100 mg/dl had twice the cancer risk of those who achieved a level of 150 mg/dl. A number of trials have not found any increased incidence of cancer, but these have been severely underrepresented with women and the elderly.

Although generally well-tolerated, statins have been associated with muscle pain (myopathy) and liver toxicity (hepatotoxicity). People who take statins should be monitored by their health care providers for these reasons.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Ozgen Dogan
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The most common side effects of statins are muscle weakness, muscle pain and muscle inflammation. It's usually felt as a soreness, tiredness or weakness in your muscles. Your chances of these side effects increase if you're 65 or older, female, diabetic and/or have kidney or liver disease. Very rarely (about one case for every 15 million prescriptions), statins can cause life-threatening muscle damage called rhabdomyolysis. This can lead to liver damage, kidney failure and death. If tests show your liver enzymes increasing beyond the moderate range, statin use should be discontinued. If you have chronic jaundice, it is not a good idea to take statins.

Traditional statin drugs have side effects including muscle soreness. Newer statins have fewer side effects.

Dr. Darria Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

Side effects may include muscle pain and damage, fatigue, headaches, high blood sugar, and abnormal liver enzyme levels.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.