Statins no more likely than a placebo to cause muscle problems, says new study

Shaun Lintern
·3 min read
<p>New trial split patients into two groups, giving one a placebo with no active ingredients</p> (Getty Images)

New trial split patients into two groups, giving one a placebo with no active ingredients

(Getty Images)

Cholesterol-busting statins used by millions of patients to stave off heart attacks and strokes are no more likely than a placebo to cause muscle problems, new research has shown.

Despite widespread research on the benefits of statins for patients with cardiovascular disease concerns have been raised over side effects of the drugs, which are one of the most common prescriptions in the UK.

The results of a new trial, published in the BMJ, examined people who had recently stopped, or were considering stopping taking statins because of muscle pain symptoms.

These people were registered at 50 GP surgeries in England and Wales and were split into groups.

They were either given atorvastatin or a placebo – a fake medication with no active medical substance – each day.

The overall length of the trial was one year for each participant and comprised six two-month treatment periods.

During this time, the 200 participants were randomly assigned the medication or the placebo, but they did not know which they were taking.

Participants, who were an average of 69.5 years old, were asked to report their muscle symptoms including pain, weakness, tenderness, stiffness, or cramp of any intensity.

Overall, the researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found no difference in muscle symptom scores between the statin and placebo periods.

Most people completing the trial intended to restart treatment with statins, the authors said.

Liam Smeeth, professor of clinical epidemiology at LSHTM and senior author for the study, said: “We know statins reduce heart disease and strokes.

“More than two million people in the UK are eligible to be prescribed these life-saving drugs by their doctor.

“It is therefore vital that we have accurate data on the symptoms people are experiencing while taking statins, so that patients and doctors can make informed treatment choices.

“Many patients stop taking statins due to less severe symptoms, such as muscle pain or fatigue, exposing them to increased cardiovascular disease risk. However, trials have not been able to show if these symptoms are more common in patients taking statins or placebo.

“Our work should reassure those already taking statins or thinking about taking statins. These drugs prevent heart attacks and save lives.

“In very rare cases they can cause muscle pain, but the vast majority of people will not be affected. The benefits far outweigh the risks.”

The NHS recommends millions of people who have not suffered a heart attack or stroke should take statins as a preventative measure.

The drugs cost just pennies per dose and work by lowering harmful cholesterol in the blood.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can lead to a build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries, which can cause blockages and lead to heart disease and stroke.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that statins be offered to people whose 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, is greater than 10 per cent.

This individual risk is worked out using factors such as ethnicity and social background, and whether the person smokes or has diabetes.

Additional reporting by agencies

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