Are Statins Bad for You? 4 Things to Know

Statins are a safe and effective tool for controlling cholesterol levels—here are four things you should look out for.

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Cholesterol is a substance in your blood that makes hormones and digests fatty foods. Cholesterol is also found in the foods that we eat. Since your body makes enough cholesterol, you don't need any extra. Especially because high levels of cholesterol are related to a risk of heart attack and stroke.

If you have high levels of LDL cholesterol (also called "bad" cholesterol) in the blood, this can lead to the build-up of fatty plaques in the lining of the arteries; this is called atherosclerosis. These plaques can block an artery, resulting in heart attacks and strokes.

Statins are medications that work to lower LDL cholesterol levels. While statins are generally considered safe, they do have side effects.

01 of 04

They Can Cause Muscle Pain and Weakness

About 10% of statin users get aches and pains, William W. O'Neill, MD, a cardiologist and medical director of Henry Ford Health System's Center for Structural Heart Disease at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, told Health. The higher your dose, the more likely you are to experience aches and pains.

For most people, the solution is a simple tweak, Antonio M. Gotto Jr., MD, professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City told Health. "Before you give up on a statin, try a different dose or a different statin."

Much less common—but more serious—is rhabdomyolysis. It's a condition caused by muscle cells breaking down and releasing proteins that damage the kidneys.

According to a study, muscle pain and weakness are the most common symptoms of rhabdomyolysis. If you experience symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, see a healthcare provider as soon as you're able.

02 of 04

They Can Lead To Increased Liver Enzymes

In rare cases, people who take statins can see an increase in liver enzymes, according to the American College of Cardiology. The risk may be higher if you take other cholesterol-lowering medications along with statins.

People on statins used to undergo periodic liver enzyme testing. But routine testing is no longer required. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is a lack of evidence that routine testing made a difference in identifying these rare events.

Instead, patients may be tested before starting a statin and again as needed.

Liver enzyme testing is individualized based on each patient's risk factors, Alfred Casale, MD, chair of the Geisinger Heart Institute in Danville, Pa., told Health. If enzymes are elevated, options include stopping or switching statins.

"Just because you have problems with one statin doesn't mean you will have problems with all of them," said Dr. O'Neill.

03 of 04

They Can Cause Birth Defects

If you're pregnant, the FDA recommends that you stop taking statins. The agency reviewed decades of data on the use of statins in pregnant people and reported that it did not find an increase in major birth defects associated with the use of statins during pregnancy.

However, the FDA found insufficient data on statin use in pregnant females to determine if there is a drug-associated risk of miscarriage.

The FDA also advises that people not breastfeed when taking a statin because the medicine may pass into breast milk and pose a risk to the baby.

If you are taking a statin, tell a healthcare provider immediately if you are pregnant or thinking about having a baby.

04 of 04

They Can Interact With Other Medications

If you are taking a statin, it is important to review the medications you are currently taking with a healthcare provider. Statins, especially simvastatin and lovastatin, can interact with other medications and cause side effects.

Medication interactions can depend on which statin you are taking, the dosage, and other factors. So it's best to consult a healthcare provider for any possible drug interactions.

A Quick Review

Statins are a generally safe and effective medication that is used to treat high cholesterol levels. Treatment for high cholesterol is important to prevent heart disease and heart-related conditions such as heart attack or stroke.

If you are taking a statin, be aware that side effects can also include an increase in liver enzymes as well as muscle pain and weakness. Statins are not safe for people who are pregnant or breast feeding.

If you are taking other medications, or have other concerns about side effects related to statins, consult a healthcare provider.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About cholesterol.

  2. American Heart Association. What is cholesterol?

  3. American Heart Association. Cholesterol medications.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rhabdomyolysis.

  5. Mendes P, Robles PG, Mathur S. Statin-induced rhabdomyolysis: a comprehensive review of case reports. Physiotherapy Canada 2014;66(2):124-132. doi:10.3138/ptc.2012-65

  6. American College of Cardiology. Statin safety and adverse events.

  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Cholesterol-lowering drugs get labeling changes.

  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA requests removal of strongest warning against using cholesterol-lowering statins during pregnancy; still advises most pregnant patients should stop taking statins.

  9. American College of Cardiology. AHA statement on drug-drug interactions with statins.

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