Are Statins Bad for You? 5 Reasons to Stop or Switch Statins

These widely prescribed drugs have some potentially serious side effects.

How's your cholesterol these days? If you're not sure, you're not alone.

01 of 05

Muscle Pain and Weakness

About 10% of statin users get aches and pains, said 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. The higher your dose, the more likely you are to experience aches and pains.

  • For most people, the solution is a simple tweak, said Antonio M. Gotto Jr., MD, professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. "Before you give up on a statin, try a different dose or a different statin," he said.
  • Much less common—but more serious—is rhabdomyolysis, in which muscle cells break down and release proteins such as myoglobin that damage kidneys. It typically causes severe shoulder, thigh, and/or lower back pain. If confirmed by your doctor, you must stop taking your statin.
02 of 05

Increased Liver Enzymes

In rare cases, people who take statins can see an increase in liver enzymes. 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 due to a lack of evidence that it 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, said Alfred Casale, MD, chair of the Geisinger Heart Institute in Danville, Pennsylvania. 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.

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03 of 05

Worsening Asthma and Hay Fever

In 2011 a small study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting found that people with asthma who took statins had more symptoms and worse lung function than patients who didn't take them.

However, other research suggests statins help with asthma symptoms. For instance, a 2021 study publised in the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology concluded that statin use was associated with a reduced risk of asthma-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and systemic steroid use in patients with asthma.

04 of 05

Potential Pregnancy

If you are pregnant or thinking about having a baby, you should not take statins. Although the effect of statins during pregnancy is not clear, research has brought up concern of birth defects. Cholesterol is a building block for developing brains, hearts, and limbs.

If you are taking a statin, tell your doctor immediately if you become pregnant or are thinking about having a baby. Women who are breastfeeding should also not take statins.

05 of 05

Using Antibiotics or Antifungal Drugs

If you develop an infection and your doctor recommends treatment with an antibiotic or antifungal drug, make sure he or she knows you are taking a statin.

"You are at greater risk of muscle damage when you take these medications with a statin," said Dr. O'Neill. The best bet may be not to take statins while the infection is being treated.

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