Statins side effects: Cholesterol drug can provoke ‘nightmares’ – symptoms explained

Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes

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Statins provide a barrier against heart disease by reducing the production of LDL cholesterol inside the body. LDL cholesterol is a sticky substance that clings to the inside of your arteries, thereby raising your risk of heart disease. Statins are therefore a welcome intervention but they can induce side effects.

It’s worth noting that all medicines can cause side-effects, and most people who take statins have no problems.

However, there are a host of side effects reported in statin users, some of which are rarer than others.

On the uncommon end of the spectrum are problems with sleep, such as nightmares, warns Bupa.

It’s worth noting that the evidence linking sleep problems to statin use is scant and mainly based on anecdotal reports.

Many doctors do hear complaints of insomnia and sleep disturbance from patients taking statins.

“The best explanation is the ‘nocebo’ effect – the opposite of the placebo effect. It’s where patients experience negative side effects of a drug because they’ve been expecting to, after seeing warnings or widespread media reporting about them,” explained Professor Peter Sever is Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London.

Another way of putting it: the symptoms are real, but are not caused by the drug.

This is one reason why it’s important that drug trials include a control group taking a placebo.

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“If you are suffering sleep disturbances while taking statins, you can be reassured that in the vast majority of cases, this is not caused by the drug itself,” said Prof Sever in an interview with the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

“It’s important to continue taking your statin to substantially reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.”

The evidence strongly suggests your nightmares and other sleep-related problems are not caused by statin use.

Prof Sever cited evidence, from well-run research trials of more than 100,000 patients, that showed statins do not cause insomnia or any other sleep disturbance, compared with a dummy pill (placebo).

Other uncommon side effects include:

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Problem with sleep, such as nightmares or insomnia
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in sensation – for example, you might have numbness in your Fingers or changes in taste sensation
  • A rash on your skin
  • Tired muscles.

How to respond to side effects

The NHS says: “You should discuss the benefits and risks of taking statins with your doctor before you start taking the medicine.”

The health body continues: “If you find certain side effects particularly troublesome, talk to the doctor in charge of your care.

“Your dose may need to be adjusted or you may need a different type of statin.”

The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.

A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.

Natural ways to lower high cholesterol

The BHF says: “If you have high cholesterol, it’s most important to eat less saturated fat.”

Foods that are high in saturated fats include fatty and processed meat, pies and pastry, butter, cream, and coconut oil.

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