• Dr. Todd Hurst, MD

Muscle Pain? Could It Be Your Statin?

Updated: Oct 19, 2017

Welcome to Dr. Hurst's Health Questions Answered.

Do statins really cause muscle pain in some people? This has been a debate in medicine for some time, but a recent study provides helpful information that settles the issue.

Statins are among the most prescribed medications with millions of people taking them worldwide. Since statins first started being prescribed in the 1980s, doctors have recognized that about 10% of people taking a statin will complain about muscle pains.

It is also known that statins can cause a very serious breakdown of muscle (called rhabdomyolysis) which is fortunately very rare and typically associated with other medications that interact with a statin.  

However, most people with muscle pains on statins don’t have any lab testing abnormalities and no way to determine if the muscle pain is being caused by the statin or something else.

And research hasn’t been that helpful. Most randomized trials have shown that muscle pain is about the same in the placebo and statin groups. However, these studies typically also had a “run in” phase where all subjects were given a statin for a period of time and if they had side effects, they were excluded from the trial.

So while researchers have debated whether statins really caused muscle aches or not, clinicians (and the patients who had muscle pain on statins!) are convinced the symptoms are from statins. Who’s right?

I think the GAUSS-III study provides the answer IIn this study, about 500 patients who were deemed “statin intolerant” (were not able to take 3 different statins due to muscle aches) were randomized to taking a statin or placebo (they didn’t know which) for 10 weeks. Then they did something really interesting. They were switched. So the subjects either took a statin then a placebo or a placebo then a statin. The point of the trial was if most of the patients had muscle pain on the statin, then the statin was the problem. If an equal amount had symptoms on the placebo, the statin wasn’t the problem.

Here are the results:

About 43% of patients got it right. Meaning they had muscle aches on the statin but were able to take the placebo.

About 27% got it exactly wrong. Meaning they could take the statin but not the placebo.

10% had muscle aching on both the statin and the placebo and 17% had no problem on either the statin or the placebo.

So what does this mean? I think this trial shows us 2 things.

  1. Statins do cause muscle pains in some people.

  2. But some people think they have muscle pains on statins, but it’s not the statin causing their symptoms.

If you are trying to decide if taking a statin would be right you, download my FREE guide Should you Take a Statin

This gives a balanced view of the risks and benefits of taking statin medications so that you can make the right decision for your goals.

So now you know that muscle pains caused by statins is real, but there are also a lot of people that have muscle pains that are not being caused by their statin.

And the Beat Goes On,

R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE