The power of statins
One of the biggest medical advances of the 20th century was the discovery of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. They continue to save lives. Studies show that they decrease major cardiovascular events – like heart attacks and stroke – by 25 to 45 per cent, says Dr Roger Blumenthal, director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.
Part of the power of statins lies in the fact that they cause few side effects.
“Generally, about 90 out of 100 people have no trouble with a stain,” says Dr Blumenthal. And many of the remaining 10 per cent can do well on a different statin. But although the chances of experiencing a problem are low, they’re not zero.
With at least 40 per cent of older Australians taking a statin, it’s important to know what the potential downside is.
What are statins?
The first statin, lovastatin (Mevacor), burst onto the scene in 1987. Today, patients can choose from several on the market, including atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and simvastatin (Zocor). The drugs all work in much the same way.
“Essentially, they decrease the production and enhance the removal of (LDL or ‘bad’) cholesterol from the bloodstream,” explains Dr Blumenthal.
This type of cholesterol can build up in your arteries, eventually blocking blood vessels and increasing the risk of heart attacks, stroke, and death.
Today, about 1.5 million adults in Australia have high LDL levels. Getting LDL levels below 2.0 mmol/L is one of the best things you can do for your health, according to guidelines from the CSIRO.
Muscle pain (myalgia) is one of the most common side effects in patients right after starting statins, says cardiologist, Dr Sameer Arora. About five to 20 per cent of people on statins report muscle pain.
Muscle pain is more likely to be related to statins if it affects both sides of the body and comes on within weeks or months of starting one of these drugs.
Certain statins, though, are less likely to be linked with myalgia. Those include pravastatin (Pravachol), fluvastatin (Lescol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and pitavastatin (Livalo), says Dr Blumenthal.
Vitamin D or coenzyme Q10 supplements are sometimes helpful, but not often, he adds. Don’t stop taking any medications without talking to your doctor or health care provider first.