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People who expect statin side effects tend to have more of them

May 16, 2017—Simply knowing that you're taking a statin to control cholesterol could make you more likely to experience side effects, like muscle pain, according to new research.

It's called the nocebo effect, and the symptoms are very real—even if the cause might be in your head.

The findings are important because statins are a safe and effective treatment for unhealthy cholesterol levels and can help people avoid heart attack and stroke.

Researchers wrote that inflated claims about statin side effects and inaccurate media coverage have stopped people who have cardiovascular disease from taking statins. This has been estimated to contribute to thousands of heart attacks and strokes that could have been avoided.

What the study found

The study had two phases. In one phase, people were given either a statin or a placebo without knowing what they were receiving. Researchers found that the rate of muscle-related symptoms was similar between the two groups.

In the second phase, people were offered the choice of taking a statin or not. Researchers found that muscle-related symptoms were 41 percent more common among people who chose to take a statin than in those who didn't take a statin.

Researchers said the results show that most of the side effects reported with statins aren't directly caused by the drugs.

The study appears in the journal The Lancet.

Statin benefits and options

Statins are popular—and with good reason. These drugs reduce the amount of cholesterol made by the liver. They also help the liver remove cholesterol that's already in the blood.

Exercise and a healthy diet can also improve cholesterol. However, for some people, lifestyle doesn't do enough. That's where statins often come in.

Like any drug, it's important to take statins as directed. But if you're having uncomfortable side effects, contact your doctor right away. Your physician might try a lower dose, switch to another medication or vary how often you take the medication.

Arm yourself with more facts about statins.

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