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The Many Potential Side Effects of Statins

“Statins” are the term that describes a group of cholesterol medications that all work in the same way (i.e. they are all in the same drug class; namely HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. Because all statins work the same way, they all cause the same side effects, collectively called “statins side effects.” The statins side effects range from minor to severe, even life-threatening. Thus, anyone on a statin medication or thinking about starting on should be aware of statin side effects.
 

How Do I Know if I am Taking a Statin?

 
Fortunately it is fairly simple to determine if you are taking a statin. The generic name of each statin drug ends with the suffix –statin. The brand name for each drug with not have the statin suffix, but the generic name will be included with the brand name on your prescription information. To make sure, here is a list of statins:
 
• Atorvastatin
• Cerivastatin
• Fluvastatin
• Lovastatin
• Mevastatin
• Pitavastatin
• Pravastatin
• Rosuvastatin
• Simvastatin
• Combination drugs that contain one of the statins listed above plus another medicine
 

What are the Side Effects of Statins?

 
Statin drugs are generally safe and free from side effects, especially compared to other cholesterol medications. That being said, statins are known to cause the following side effects in a fraction of those who take the drugs:
 
• Elevated liver enzymes/liver injury
• Muscle injury (statin myopathy)
• Kidney problems
• Behavioral problems
• Cognitive problems/problems with thinking and concentrating
• Diabetes mellitus (intensive statin therapy may worsen diabetes)
• Peripheral neuropathy
 
Because of risks to the fetus and breastfeeding newborn, statin drugs should not be taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
 

Statin Myopathy

 

Statins commonly affect the muscles in some way, usually causing soreness, but sometimes causing damage. Muscle injury caused by statins is called statin myopathy. Minor statin myopathy causes muscles achiness and soreness (myalgia) and perhaps muscle weakness. Muscle inflammation may also occur. In serious cases, statin myopathy causes muscle cells do die and release their contents into the blood stream (i.e. rhabdomyolysis). These contents can, in turn, injure the kidneys and lead to renal failure.
 
Fortunately, most muscle-related statins side effects are mild and can be fully reversed by stopping treatment. On the other hand, it is important to notify your doctor if you experience new or worsening muscle aches after starting a statin drug. The drug may need to be stopped or some statin drugs are less likely to cause statin myopathy than others are.
 

Liver Problems from Statin Use

 
Up to 3% of people who take statins develop elevated liver enzymes. Elevated liver enzymes are a sign that the liver is being injured in some way. A brief, mild elevation in liver enzymes can come from relatively minor things, like drinking alcohol or eating a fatty meal. The same may occur from statins, which is not a problem. However, if the liver enzymes increase substantially (i.e. ALT reaches three times the upper limit of normal), a change in medication should be considered (and should resolve the problem).
 

Behavioral and Cognitive Problems from Statins

 
In rare cases, statins may be the cause of potentially several behavioral and cognitive problems. There have been some reports of people experiencing problems with memory, irritability, aggression, and depression. These statins side effects are rare, but if they occur, they are very important to the patient and the patient’s family. While the benefits of statins far outweigh the risks in most people, it is important to be aware of statins side effects and discuss them with your doctor.
 

Understand Your Risks with the Rxight® Genetic Test

 
The Rxight® genetic test evaluates your unique genetic reaction to many statins, to identify  potential medication side effects or non-response.  Rxight® performs this test along with many other genes involved drug action and metabolism to provide a strong clinical picture of a patient and warn those who would have a serious and potentially fatal adverse drug reaction.

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