These Common Cholesterol Medications Have Surprisingly Dangerous Side Effects

High cholesterol is a common problem among Americans and can lead to heart disease and stroke — two of the most common killers in the U.S.

Around 25 million Americans currently use statins. Statins are powerful and highly effective cholesterol-lowering medications. Many doctors weigh the benefits of statins with the potential risks; some of the side effects are common, while others are rare and highly dangerous.


Senior woman taking pills with a glass of water.

Muscle pain is common with Crestor. |

People commonly complain of muscle pain when taking statins like Crestor. While some report mild pain, others find that the muscle pain is so severe it inhibits their daily activities and can lead to muscle damage.

Statin-induced myopathy is a common concern for many people taking the meds. Harvard Medical School found that a genetic test may reveal how risky statins like Crestor will be for your muscles.


bottle of ibuprofen pills on a white background

Zocor may raise your risk of developing diabetes. |

A recent study published in the online journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care found that a long-term use of statins like Zocor may raise your risk of diabetes. These meds are linked to a 30% heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes in susceptible individuals.

One of the most commonly prescribed statins of the study’s participants were simvastatins like Zocor (40%). A Finland study found that statins may increase a person’s insulin resistance and impairing the pancreas’ ability to secrete insulin.


Pile of prescription pills spilling from open pill bottle.

You may be more tired than usual on this prescription. |

A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that participants on pravastatins like Pravachol or simvastatins were considerably more likely to report low energy and fatigue than those given a placebo.

“Side effects of statins generally rise with increasing dose, and these doses were modest by current standards. Yet occurrence of this problem was not rare — even at these doses, and particularly in women,” Beatrice A. Golomb, Ph.D. said.


illustration showing male liver anatomy

You could develop liver problems on Lipitor. |

The Mayo Clinic notes that using statins like Lipitor can increase the level of enzymes that signal liver inflammation. Serious liver-related side effects include hepatitis and jaundice.

Lipitor warns you should consult your doctor immediately if you notice your skin or the whites of your eyes yellowing. Your doctor should conduct blood tests to check your liver before you start taking Lipitor and if you show symptoms of liver problems while taking the drug.


A pair of female feet

This side effect is pretty undesirable. |

A 10-year dietary study published online found that statin users consumed an average of nearly 10% more calories and 14% more fat in recent years, and gained an average of 6.6 to 11 pounds.

Lovastatins like Mevacor can cause muscle pain and weakness, which may make you less likely to exercise. The journal’s editor, Rita F. Redberg, M.D., wrote the meds may, “provide a false reassurance” and a belief that the drugs can “compensate for poor dietary choices,” leading to overeating and subsequent weight gain.


young woman with clear complexion in the bathroom

Watch out for rashes while on this medication. | iStock/Getty Images

Prescription cholesterol meds like Livalo can have bad implications for your skin. A recently updated FDA report found that 4,566 people reported to have side effects when taking Livalo, and among them, 261 reported skin rashes.

You’re more likely to develop a rash if you’re female, over 60 years old, and are taking Livalo while using Claritin Reditabs.

Who’s at risk of developing side effects

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Young women are at a higher risk for these side effects. |

Certain people who take prescription cholesterol medications are at greater risk of developing dangerous side effects than others.

Risk factors include doubling up on cholesterol-lowering medications and drinking too much alcohol. You may be more at risk if you’re female, have a small frame, or are 65 or older.