Statins: Side effects simvastatin may include atrial fibrillation

Since their invention, statins have garnered a lot of attention among medical circles for their ability to stave off complications of the heart. Studies have shown that in preventing the build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries, the drug could prevent thousands of cardiac events each year. Many avoid statin treatment, however, for fear of having to contend with unwanted side effects. According to one case study, one severe side effect could cause a thumping or fluttering sensation in the chest.

The authors of an early case report detailed the case of a 61-year-old man who developed atrial fibrillation two weeks after administration of simvastatin.

The patient recovered within three days after withdrawal of the drug, and his heart returned to sinus rhythm.

Sinus rhythm is the term given to a normal heartbeat of around 60 to 100 beats per minute.

The timing of the transient atrial fibrillation attack led researchers to believe the attack was closely related to the administration of the drug.

READ MORE: Statins side effects: Cholesterol-lowering drug could cause rhabdomyolysis – what is it?

According to Harvard Health: “Statins work to lower the production of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or“ bad ”cholesterol by blocking an enzyme in the liver that helps make cholesterol.

“High LDL levels can create plaque buildup in the arteries, which can block blood flow and raise your risk of a heart attack or stroke.”

Muscle pain, dark colored urine and jaundice are all closely linked to the drug, but the health platform RXlist confirms that AF could also occur with simvastatin.

An entry on the website states: “Contact your doctor if you have severe side effects of zocor (simvastatin), including […] atrial fibrillation. “


The NHS defines atrial fibrillation as a “heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate”.

The health body continues: “A normal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you’re resting.”

But with atrial fibrillation, individuals tend to experience a considerably higher number of heartbeats per minute.

This can cause dizziness, shortness of breath and fatigue, but the most obvious sign is a fluttering or thumping sensation in the chest, which may cause alarm.

Despite the possibility of such adverse events, many experts remain adamant the benefits outweigh the risks.

Particularly since recent studies threw the legitimacy of some complaints into question.

Last year, some studies suggested that the nocebo effect offered the best explanation for the frequent reports of muscle pain attributed to statins.

The nocebo effect is the term given to the unfavorable effect of a drug that is caused by the patient’s negative expectation of it.

The findings stem from a 2021 study published in the New Journal of Medicine, which focussed on a sample of 60 people who have discontinued statin treatment because of side effects.

Harvard Health summarized the study’s findings with the following statement: “After a year, the researchers found that 90 percent of the symptoms people recorded when taking statins were also present when they took the placebo.”

What’s more, once the patients were made aware of their results, half of them felt confident to restart treatment.

Experts expressed hope the findings would encourage many to continue treatment with the potentially life-saving drug.

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