Harvard Heart Letter

Muscle aches and pains from statin use

Discomfort usually resolves with a lower dose or a different statin.

A rare but worrisome side effect of taking a cholesterol-lowering statin is the breakdown of muscle tissue. To guard against it, people who take statins have often been advised to have regular blood tests to spot rising levels of creatine kinase (CK), a byproduct of muscle breakdown. Doctors hoped the tests would help identify the earliest stages of rhabdomyolysis, the most severe form of muscle breakdown, which can result in kidney failure and death (see box).

But in March, the FDA recommended CK tests be given only at the start of statin therapy or if muscle pain or weakness develops. Rhabdomyolysis is not accurately predicted by routine blood testing, they said, and common statin-related muscle discomfort often resolves with a lower statin dose or a change to a different statin.

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