Patients are warned not to shun statins after new research shows they are wrongly blamed for the aches and pains of old age

  • New study suggests statins wrongly blamed for aches and pains in old age
  • London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found the drugs had no effects
  • They believe symptoms could be result of negative associations with the drug

Statins are being wrongly blamed for aches and pains that are likely to come from old age, a study has found.

Doctors fear that tens of thousands die every year from shunning the life-saving pills because they worry about the supposed side effects.

But researchers say patients felt roughly the same levels of muscle pain and stiffness whether they took statins or a placebo pill instead.

Their study suggests that the symptoms could simply be old age or the ‘nocebo’ effect – caused by negative associations with the prescription drug.

Statins are being wrongly blamed for aches and pains that are likely to come from old age, a study has found (stock image)

Experts say the findings should encourage millions of people risking heart attack and stroke to start taking the pills.

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine gave 200 patients both statins or dummy pills over six two-month periods.

Neither patients, nor their GP, knew which tablet they were receiving at any given time but all had periods taking both.

At the end of each treatment period, participants rated their muscle symptoms – defined as pain, weakness, tenderness, stiffness, or cramp of any intensity. No difference was seen in the scores between the statin and placebo periods.

The researchers also found no differences for the effect of muscle symptoms on aspects of daily life – such as mood, ability to walk, sleep or work.

Doctors fear that tens of thousands die every year from shunning the life-saving pills because they worry about the supposed side effects. But researchers say patients felt roughly the same levels of muscle pain and stiffness whether they took statins or a placebo pill instead (stock image)

Liam Smeeth, who is a GP and professor of clinical epidemiology at LSHTM, said: ‘We’re not saying anyone is making up aches and pains at all – these are real aches and pains.

‘What we’re showing very clearly, is that those aches and pains are no worse on statins than they are on placebo.

‘These are real, they’re just not being caused by statins and that really matters if people are weighing up the benefits and risks, and if statins are for them.’

Around eight million people in Britain take the cholesterol-busting drugs, while an estimated six million more should be taking them but choose not to. They are thought to stop about 80,000 heart attacks and strokes every year at the cost of roughly £20 a year per patient.

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine gave 200 patients both statins or dummy pills over six two-month periods (stock image)

The trial looked at one type of statin, which is most commonly prescribed in the UK, taken at a moderate dosage. Researchers admitted that the pills can be given at higher doses, typically after a heart attack, and that this study did not look to see if this changed the effects.

Eighty of the 200 participants, who had recently stopped or were considering stopping treatment with statins because of the purported side effects, dropped out of the study, with 32 stating intolerable muscle symptoms.

Of these, 13 dropped out during a period when they were taking placebos and 18 when on statins, according to the results published in the British Medical Journal. One dropped out before the trial started.

Two-thirds of those completing the trial said they planned to restart long-term treatment with statins.

Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the findings should give confidence to patients concerned about taking statins.

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