The use of a class of drugs called statins which treat high levels of cholesterol has been associated with increased muscle pain. The finding comes from a study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology carried out by researchers at the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen.

Statins are the most effective drugs for lowering bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). They achieve this by inhibiting the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver. In the Netherlands around 40 percent of the population over the age of 65 take statins, with close to 600,000 taking the medication.

One of the main side effects of statin treatment is the increased risk of developing muscle pain. An estimated 75 percent of people on the medication report symptoms of muscle pain which can lead to problems with compliance (adherence).

According to Professor Flemming Dela from the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen:

“A well-known side effect of statin therapy is muscle pain. Up to 75 per cent of the physically active patients undergoing treatment for high cholesterol experience pain. This may keep people away from either taking their medicine or from taking exercise – both of which are bad choices. We have now shown that statin treatment affects the energy production in muscles. We are working on the assumption that this can be the direct cause of muscle weakness and pain in thepatients.”

The researchers found that patients on statin therapy had low levels of the key protein Q10 which along with energy depletion could be the main reason for the development of muscle pain. A previous study carried out by researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that the severity of muscle problems associated with use of statins is related to the strength or potency of the drug.

Nearly half of all patients in Denmark on statin treatment are only prescribed this drug. This means that they are solely being treated for high cholesterol and do not have any other conditions that could affect their heart:

Professor Flemming Dela adds: “The effect of statins is marginal for these patients in a previous published Cochrane analysis only 0.5% reduction in all-cause mortality was detected, indicating that for every 200 patients taking statins daily for five years, one death would be prevented. This patient group is obviously interesting in light of the side effects of statin therapy.”

He concludes:

“The new study is the basis for a large planned research project, where we will focus broadly on patients undergoing statin treatment. We will look at statin consumption from a medical point of view, and will also investigate the media’s influence on patients’ acceptance or rejection of statins as a treatment option. Many contradictory views find their way into the public forum, and it can be difficult for patients to distinguish between fact and fiction.”

The Center for Healthy Aging will is planning on carrying out research to evaluate if monitoring cholesterol levels at home makes patients feel anymore secure or not.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist