Statins, drugs prescribed against excess blood cholesterol, do not cause muscle pain, contrary to their reputation which has discouraged many patients from taking this treatment, researchers assure Thursday, February 25.
Read also: Cholesterol: should we be wary of statins?
Statins are widely used to prevent heart disease and stroke.
Although serious side effects are rare, fear of muscle pain and cramps or weakness leads patients to discontinue treatment.
This potentially puts them at an increased risk of serious heart problems.
The question remains controversial, despite multiple studies and sometimes confusing official advice.
To deal with this uncertainty, UK researchers studied some 200 people (average age 69.5) in England and Wales who had recently stopped taking their medication or were considering doing so due to muscle symptoms. .
Each participant was randomly assigned to six two-month treatment periods, each of which they received statins or a placebo.
Neither the patient nor his doctor was informed of the tablet received.
Participants rated muscle symptoms and their intensity - pain, weakness, tenderness, stiffness, or cramping - on a scale of one to ten at the end of each treatment period.
The absence of symptoms is also noted.
Dropouts due to intolerable muscle symptoms were 18 participants (9%) during a statin period and 13 (7%) during a placebo period.
Two-thirds of the participants who completed the trial said they plan to resume long-term treatment with statins.
Overall, the researchers, whose study appeared in the
British Medical Journal
(BMJ), found no difference in muscle symptom scores between periods of statins and placebo.
They only evaluated one type of statin (atorvastatin 20 mg) and suggest doing similar studies with other statins and higher doses.
Read also: Diabetes, cholesterol: can we indulge ourselves by eating?
Muscle aches and pains are common in the age group taking statins, which can lead to a mistaken belief that the drugs are the culprit, they note.
"This study provides additional evidence through the lived experience of individuals that muscle pain often attributed to statins is not due to the drug"
, adds Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, quoted by Science Media Center.
Nonetheless, the drug's package leaflet recommendations list joint and muscle pain and back pain as common side effects.
It is also advisable to report
"any unexplained muscle pain, muscle cramps or weakness, especially if accompanied by malaise or fever"
, which may suggest rare but serious side effects.
In a 2017 study published in
, researchers at Imperial College London believed that several reports of statin side effects seemed to have convinced people to feel them for themselves.
A psychological phenomenon called the "nocebo" effect.