Statins side effects: High doses of statins may raise risk of rhabdomyolysis – what is it?

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Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol is potentially dangerous and can lead to cardiovascular disease.

But statins themselves can cause problems. Side effects can vary between different statins, says the NHS, but common side effects include headache, dizziness, feeling sick, digestive system problems, such as constipation and diarrhoea, sleep problems and low blood platelet count.

Another common side effect is muscle pain. According to Mayo Clinic mild muscle pain is a relatively common side effect of statins.

But it adds: “Some people who take statin medications to lower their cholesterol may have severe muscle pain.

“This intense pain may be a symptom of rhabdomyolysis (rab-doe-my-OL-ih-sis), a rare condition that causes muscle cells to break down.”

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The most common signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include:

  • Severe muscle aching throughout the entire body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dark or cola-colored urine

The clinic continues: “The higher the dose of statins, the higher the risk of rhabdomyolysis becomes.

“The risk also increases if certain drugs — including cyclosporine (Sandimmune) and gemfibrozil (Lopid) — are taken in combination with statins. “

But the risk of developing rhabdomyolysis from statin therapy is very low.

Rhabdomyolysis or milder forms of muscle inflammation from statins can be diagnosed with a blood test measuring levels of the enzyme creatinine kinase.

The NHS also lists some other uncommon side effects of statins:

  • being sick
  • memory problems
  • hair loss
  • pins and needles
  • inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), which can cause flu-like symptoms
  • inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can cause stomach pain
  • skin problems, such as acne or an itchy red rash
  • sexual problems, such as loss of libido (reduced sex drive) or erectile dysfunction

Rare side effects can include:

  • muscle weakness (myopathy)
  • loss of sensation or tingling in the nerve endings of the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy)
  • tendon problems (tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones)

If you experience any side effects from statins speak to your GP.

The Yellow Card Scheme also allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you’re taking.

This is run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Statins shouldn’t be taken if you have severe liver disease or if blood tests suggest your liver may not be working properly.

This is because statins can affect your liver, and this is more likely to cause serious problems if you already have a severely damaged liver.

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