Statins do not cause muscle pain or stiffness any more than a placebo, a study suggests.
Many people have been put off taking the cholesterol-busting drugs because of the potential side effects.
But a new study found that the drugs – which are widely used to prevent heart attacks and strokes – are no more likely than a placebo to cause muscle problems.
The new trial, published in The BMJ, examined people who had recently stopped, or were considering stopping taking statins because of muscle symptoms.
They were split into groups and over a set period were either given atorvastatin or a placebo – or a “fake” drug with no active medical substance – each day.
The overall length of the trial was one year for each participant and comprised six two-month treatment periods.
During this time, the 200 participants were randomly assigned the medication or the placebo, but they did not know which they were taking.
Participants, who were an average of 69.5 years old, were asked to report their muscle symptoms including pain, weakness, tenderness, stiffness, or cramp of any intensity.
Overall, the researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found no difference in muscle symptom scores between the statin and placebo periods.
Most people completing the trial intended to restart treatment with statins, the authors noted.
Liam Smeeth, professor of clinical epidemiology at LSHTM and study senior author, said: “We know statins reduce heart disease and strokes.
“More than two million people in the UK are eligible to be prescribed these life-saving drugs by their doctor.
“It is therefore vital that we have accurate data on the symptoms people are experiencing while taking statins, so that patients and doctors can make informed treatment choices.
“Many patients stop taking statins due to less severe symptoms, such as muscle pain or fatigue, exposing them to increased cardiovascular disease risk. However, trials have not been able to show if these symptoms are more common in patients taking statins or placebo.
“Our work should reassure those already taking statins or thinking about taking statins.
“These drugs prevent heart attacks and save lives.
“In very rare cases they can cause muscle pain, but the vast majority of people will not be affected. The benefits far outweigh the risks.”
NHS recommendations say millions of people who have not suffered a heart attack or stroke should take statins as a preventative measure.
Statins, which cost pennies each, work by lowering harmful cholesterol in the blood.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can lead to a build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries, which can cause blockages and lead to heart disease and stroke.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends that statins be offered to people whose 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, is greater than 10%.
This individual risk is worked out using factors such as ethnicity and social background, and whether the person smokes or has diabetes.