A new study finds that statins, a drug used to lower cholesterol, do not cause muscle pain.
The research found that for more than 90% of patients on statins who experience muscle pain, the medication is not the cause of the pain.
Misinformation around statins and muscle pain has led many to cease taking the potentially life-saving medication, and researchers hope these findings will change that.
Muscle pain is one of the most common complaints from people who take statins, a type of drug that helps lower cholesterol, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And so the two are often linked. However, a new study published in The Lancet found that statins don’t cause muscle pain in most people who take them.
More specifically, the study—a meta-analysis of 19 randomized double-blind trials of statin regimens versus placebos—concluded that for more than 90% of patients on statins who experience muscle pain, the medication is not the cause of the pain. “This finding is particularly true if the treatment has been well tolerated for a year or more before developing symptoms,” the study reads. All trials had over 1,000 participants and at least two years of follow up.
Such results lead researchers to believe that reports of muscle pain caused by statins are related to misinformation around the drugs’ side-effects, which can be partially linked to past, non-randomized studies that posed “really quite extreme” estimates of how much muscle pain statins cause, study author Colin Baigent, a professor of epidemiology at University of Oxford said in a Science Media Center briefing, per CNN.
These conceptions have led patients to cease taking their prescriptions, and have discouraged at-risk patients from accepting them altogether. Yet, the Lancet study found there to be little difference in reports of muscle pain in statin users versus placebo: At least one incident of muscle pain or weakness was reported from from 27.1% those assigned a statin versus 26.6% of those who had a placebo during a median 4.3 year follow up.
“What we conclude is that there are two things that we need to do as a profession, as a society,” Baigent explained of the findings. “The first thing is, we need to do a better job of managing patients who report muscle pain when they are taking a statin, because there’s a tendency in patients to end up stopping the statin and that has a detrimental effect on their long term health. And the second thing we need to do is we need to look at the information that is available to patients in package inserts.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, in very rare cases, statins have been associated with muscle damage called rhabdomyolysis, but it’s only been calculated in a few cases per million people taking them, and is most common in people on high doses or those who mix them with other certain drugs.
Overall, researchers hope the study drives home that the risk of muscle pain from statins is far lower than that associated with uncontrolled high cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, statins are directly associated with the reduction of heart attack and stroke risk.
So, although the study did have its own limitations—including the absence of some adverse event data and not excluding participants who may now be statin intolerant—its findings could be instrumental in patients accepting the heart healthcare they need.
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