Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Why don't statins damage the heart muscle?

Q. I've heard that statin drugs can cause muscle damage. Since the heart is a muscle, why don't statins cause heart damage?

A. You ask an interesting question. The statin drugs that people take to lower cholesterol do sometimes injure the skeletal muscles that move the limbs and other parts of the body. It's not entirely clear how that happens.

You're right: the heart is a muscle. However, heart muscle (the medical term is myocardium) is built somewhat differently from the skeletal muscles. If you were to look at a piece of heart muscle under a microscope (particularly an electron microscope) you would see subtle differences between it and a piece of muscle taken from, say, your biceps. This makes sense because the two different types of muscle have very different types of jobs to do. The skeletal muscles need to work sometimes but can rest at other times, whereas the heart muscle (like the muscles that help you breathe) needs to work every minute of your life — without fail.

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