Overview

If you or someone you know is trying to reduce their cholesterol, you’ve heard about statins. They are a type of prescription medication that lowers blood cholesterol.

Statins reduce the production of cholesterol by the liver. This can prevent extra cholesterol from building up on the inside of arteries, which could lead to heart attack or stroke. One study that involved three hospitals found that statins seem to work best for people who have a genetic predisposition for heart attacks.

The usual side effects

As with many people who take prescription medications, some people who use statins experience side effects. About 25 million Americans take statins. Between 5 and 18 percent of these people report sore muscles, a common side effect. Statins are more likely to cause muscle pain when taken at high doses or when taken in combination with certain medications.

Other reported side effects of statins include liver or digestive problems, high blood sugar, type 2 diabetes, and memory problems. The Mayo Clinic suggests that some people are more likely than others to suffer from these effects. High-risk groups include women, people over 65, people with liver or kidney disease, and those who drink more than two alcoholic beverages a day.

What about joint pain?

Joint pain is considered a minor side effect of statin use, though if you suffer from it, it might not seem minor to you.

There is little recent research on statins and joint pain. One case study suggested that statins that dissolve in fats, called lipophilic statins, have a higher likelihood of causing joint pain, but further research is needed.

While muscle pain and joint pain are clearly separate issues, if you’re on statins and experiencing aches, it might be worth considering exactly where the pain is. According to the FDA, some medications interact with statins to actually increase the amount of statin in your bloodstream. This is true for grapefruit and grapefruit juice as well. In very rare cases, rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition, can occur. The vast majority of people who use statins will not have to worry about this condition, but you should discuss any aches and pains with your doctor.

The takeaway

Statins have been shown to help prevent heart attack and stroke, especially in cases where those health issues are inherited. But statins are not the only way to reduce cholesterol. Simple changes in your diet and an increase in exercise can make a difference.

If you’re considering statins, also think about losing weight and eating more healthfully. Eating more produce and less meat and replacing simple carbohydrates with complex ones can reduce your cholesterol.

Exercising four or more days a week for more than 30 minutes at a time can also have a positive effect. Statins have been an important health development, but they aren’t the only way to decrease your chances of heart attack and stroke.