Million of people take statins with the principle aim of staving off the risk of heart disease. They help to achieve this outcome by lowering high cholesterol levels. However, statins are not entirely benign: they can cause side effects.
One extremely rare but serious side effect is rhabdomyolysis.
Rhabdomyolysis is a severe form of myopathy, diseases of the muscles usually characterized by weakness.
“Rhabdomyolysis is a serious syndrome resulting from the breakdown of skeletal muscle fibers and the subsequent leakage of muscle contents into the circulatory system. These substances, which include myoglobin, are harmful to the kidneys and can cause kidney failure,” explained Doctor Mike Ozkor, consultant cardiologist at The Wellington Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.
According to Doctor Ozkor, the exact cause of statin-induced rhabdomyolysis is unknown. “However, what is known is that the higher the dose of statins, the higher the risk of developing rhabdomyolysis.”
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The doc was keen to stress that, while the side effect can be “life-threatening”, it’s very “rare”.
It is estimated around 1.5 in every 100,000 people taking statins will develop the syndrome.
Three common signs of rhabdomyolysis can show up in your pee, explained Doctor Ozkor.
These include dark red or brown colored urine, or decreased urination.
- Other common signs of rhabdomyolysis include:
- Severe muscle aching throughout the entire body
- Muscle weakness.
How is it diagnosed?
According to Doctor Ozkor, rhabdomyolysis from statins can be diagnosed with a blood test measuring levels of the enzyme creatinine kinase (CK).
“If you notice any of these symptoms after starting to take statins, contact your GP immediately. For a full recovery, prompt treatment and early diagnosis is important.”
The doc added: “Your GP will be able to provide a proper diagnosis and advise on the best course of action, ensuring any necessary steps are taken to prevent any serious damage to your kidneys.”
It’s important to stress that many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects.
“Your doctor should discuss the risks and benefits of taking statins if they’re offered to you,” the NHS says.
The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.
A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
Natural ways to lower high cholesterol
Lifestyle changes that can reduce your cholesterol level and CVD risk include:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
- Stopping smoking.