Lowering cholesterol levels reduces risk of heart attack or stroke and many people may be prescribed statins for the rest of their lives, according to the Mayo clinic. Statin side effects can cause some to choose risk over discomfort but it is possible to reduce, if not reverse, the side effects of statins.
Statin Side Effects
Statin side effects include muscle pain, liver damage, digestive issues, and rash or flushing.
Muscle pain is the most frequent and troubling side effect reported with statin use. Its impact ranges from mild discomfort to impairment of daily activities such as climbing stairs or just walking. Persistent muscle pain and dark urine may point to rhabdomyolysis, a condition that can cause kidney failure and death.
Statins can raise your liver’s enzyme production to dangerous levels; if not treated, your liver may be permanently damaged.
Digestive problems, including nausea, diarrhea, and constipation are uncommon side effect of statins.
Rash or flushing is a possible side effect of statin use, especially if you also take niacin.
Reducing Muscle Pain
You might have heard that coenzyme Q10 can reduce or prevent the muscular pain and discomfort statins can cause. Scientists are divided on the subject, says Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Thomas Behrenbeck. Some believe coenzyme Q10 can reduce muscle and joint aches but not enough large studies have been done to confirm this. Ask you doctor about it before taking coenzyme Q10 to determine if it might interact with any other medications you are taking.
Changing your exercise routine or going a little easier may lessen muscle pain. Muscle aches that are statin side effects won’t be relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers. In order to determine if your muscle aches are a statin side effect, ask your doctor about taking a break from your medication for 10 to 14 days. You should determine if it is your prescription and not other factors that are causing muscle aches before making medication changes.
Your doctor should test for rhabdomyolysis if you develop persistent muscle pain and weakness accompanied by dark urine. A key component of treatment for rhabdomyolysis is aggressive hydration, sometimes accompanied by use of a diuretic to flush the kidneys. If treatment is started early, the effects of rhabdomyolysis may be reversed before complications occur; however, once they begin, kidney dialysis or even a kidney transplant may be necessary.
Protecting Your Liver
When you start taking a statin, your doctor should check your liver enzyme levels about six weeks from the start, and repeat the check every three to six months for the first year. If dangerously increased enzyme levels are found, your doctor may lower your dosage or switch you to a different statin.
Reducing Digestive Problems
If you experience digestive problems while taking statins, taking your medication with your evening meal can reduce the effects.
Changing Your Prescription
Talk to your doctor about changing your dosage, trying another statin or trying another cholesterol-lowering medication. Pravastatin and rouvastatin may cause fewer side effects than other statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs can be weighed in terms of their effectiveness, your needs and the side effects. It may take some experimentation but medications aren't one-size-fits-all.
Interactions That Can Increase Statin Side Effects
Grapefruit juice can intensify statin effects; combining different cholesterol-lowering medications may increase the risk of side effects; and statins can interact with antibiotic medications.
Statin side effects may increase when you take statins in combination with medications for irregular heart rhythms, antidepressants or drugs that suppress the immune system.
Talk to your doctor about identifying possible interactions that could be contributing to side effects and working out solutions.
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