People taking statin drugs to lower their cholesterol may slightly increase
their risk for muscle and joint diseases as well as strains and sprains, a new
Statins, such as Zocor and Lipitor, are widely used to reduce cholesterol
levels and help prevent heart disease. But they're also thought to contribute to
muscle weakness, muscle cramps and tendon problems.
This new study, based on nearly 14 000 US active-duty soldiers and veterans,
confirmed an association between the drugs' use and musculoskeletal injuries and
diseases. But the findings need to be replicated in other types of studies and
should not deter people at risk of heart disease from taking the medications,
said lead researcher Dr Ishak Mansi, from the VA North Texas Health Care System
"Do not stop taking statins; these medications have been life-savers for some
patients," Mansi said. "But talk to your doctor about the benefit-risk ratio for
How the research was done
Whether statins should be prescribed universally in people without risk
factors for heart disease, as some in the health care field suggest, is another
matter, Mansi said.
"The side effects of statins are not totally known yet," Mansi said.
"Advocating widespread use, specifically for primary prevention in otherwise
healthy subjects, is unsound."
The researchers matched nearly 7 000 statin users with a similar number of
nonusers to assess the risk of musculoskeletal problems associated with statin
They found that people taking statins had a 19% greater risk of having
musculoskeletal problems compared with non-users. Specifically, statin users were
13% more likely to suffer dislocations, strains or sprains. They were only 0.7%
more likely to develop osteoarthritis or other joint problems, which was not
considered statistically significant, the researchers found.
The greater likelihood of strains, sprains and dislocations with statin use
has not been previously reported, the researchers said. The findings might have
implications for physically active people, such as members of the military.
Dr Gregg Fonarow, spokesman for the American Heart Association, said statin
users should be reassured by the findings.
"This study provides further evidence that the proven cardiovascular benefits
outweigh any potential risks, including musculoskeletal issues," said Fonarow, a
professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"Statins have been demonstrated in multiple large-scale, prospective,
randomised, placebo-controlled trials to reduce the risk of cardiovascular
events in men and women with or at risk for cardiovascular disease," he said.
"In these gold-standard clinical trials there has been no increased risk of
In the current study, three-quarters of the participants were taking
simvastatin (brand name Zocor) and about 20% were taking atorvastatin (Lipitor).
Smaller numbers were prescribed pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor),
fluvastatin (Lescol) or lovastatin (Mevacor).
For more information on statins, visit the US National
Library of Medicine.