Before I attempt to answer the question, let me clarify some terms. What exactly are statin drugs? Statin drugs are classified as cholesterol-lowering-lipid controlling drugs. Lipid-regulating drugs are among the most commonly prescribed medications in this country. Lipitor® and Crestor® are popular statin drugs. One of the side effects associated with statin drugs is a condition called peripheral neuropathy. Neuropathy is classified as nerve damage. It often affects the feet and lesser occasion the hands as well. Some of the more common symptoms include burning, tingling, numbness and “pins and needles sensations.” It often affects a person’s balance-causing a predilection to falling. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention reports that falls in older adults is the leading cause of injury and injury deaths.
Getting back to the question at hand-do the statin drugs cause peripheral neuropathy-and if so should I take lower-cholesterol medication? Numerous studies do in fact indicate that statin drugs can cause peripheral neuropathy. A famous Danish study of neuropathy as a side effect of statin use concluded that an individual who is a long term user of statin drugs has anywhere from 4 to 14 times greater risk of developing peripheral neuropathy than a person who does not take statin drugs.
Besides peripheral neuropathy, the statin drugs have been associated with other side effects as well, including:
Muscle pain and muscle weakness-many people experience aching in the shoulders, pain in the jaw muscle pain in the legs with difficulty walking
- Memory loss and other cognitive problems-with dementia type symptoms
- Mild increase in diabetes risk associated with statin use
- Decrease in coenzyme Q10 – decrease in coenzyme Q10 can harm the mitochondria, which are the power producers in our cells.
With all these side effects, should you take the statin drugs to lower cholesterol levels? In most instances I would say yes to statin drugs. Of course certain adverse reactions such as muscle weakness can quite serious with significant repercussions. In these cases the prescribing physician needs to be notified immediately. Overall my feeling is that the benefits outweigh the down-side risks. The benefits of statin drugs are well proven. By lowering the “bad cholesterol”, the drugs in this category can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and arterial disease. In my opinion the benefits in preventing these potential life-threatening diseases, outweigh the risk of developing neuropathy. If you do have concerns about the risk versus reward scenario, I suggest that you talk to your physician.