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Jun 14, 2012

How Common is Fatigue When Taking a Statin

Patients and doctors should always discuss the possible side effects of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

From over-the-counter medications to the strongest of prescription drugs, all medications carry some risk of side effects or complications. So it is no secret that the most commonly used drugs to help lower cholesterol, known as statins, are not without possible side effects. For example, although most patients tolerate the medication well, statins can cause mild side effects like headache and weakness. For some, these symptoms are bearable. For others, they may mean stopping treatment.

Although fatigue is a known side effect of statin use, it is less clear how common this effect is on patients. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego conducted a study to find out just how common. Is fatigue a rare side effect associated with statins? Are some patients at greater risk for this adverse effect than others?

This study, published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed more than 1,000 patients with high cholesterol for a total of six months. During this time, patients took either a statin (simvastatin or pravastatin) or a placebo containing no medication. After analyzing the data collected over the study period, researchers found that patients taking statins were at increased risk for fatigue, especially those who got little physical activity. They also found that women were more likely to experience this side effect compared to men.

Researchers say that this is the first study demonstrating that fatigue is a common side effect of statin use. Although further research is needed to better understand the impact of statins on energy level, patients and doctors should always discuss the possible side effects of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. If some patients may be at greater risk for side effects like fatigue and are concerned about how this may impact their lives, it’s important to consider these issues when making treatment decisions.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How do statins work?

  • Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs that help prevent the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Combined with healthy lifestyle choices like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, statins can be extremely effective in reducing risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

  • Who needs statins?

  • Statins are often prescribed to patients with high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, who are at increased risk for heart disease. Statins help eliminate bad cholesterol from the body and reduce cardiovascular risk.

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