Hitting a Nerve

Muscling through the data


Statins have, overall, been a remarkably beneficial class of drugs. Yes, you occasionally get patients who see them as part of some huge pharma-government conspiracy (along with vaccines and 5G, presumably) but the data are there to support them.

One of the issues with them is myalgias. We all see this to varying degrees. We all warn patients about it, as do their pharmacists, the information sheets from the pharmacy, some TV show, a Facebook friend, that guy in their Tuesday bowling league ... etc.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

It is a legitimate concern. Some people definitely do get muscle cramps from them and need to come off. Scanning the medication list of someone who comes in with muscle cramps is a key part of the case.

Recently, the Lancet published a meta-analysis on the subject and found that, in 9 out of 10 patients who complained of muscle cramps on statins, the symptoms were unrelated to the drug. While previous data suggested rates of myalgias as high as 29%, this paper found it was closer to 7% compared with placebo. Only one in 15 of the muscle-related reports by patients while taking statins were clearly caused by the drug.

The power of suggestion is remarkable indeed.

The study is interesting. It might be correct.

But try telling that to the patients.

We all have patients who will get pretty much any side effect we mention, or that they read about online. That’s just human nature for some. But even reasonable adults can confuse things. The guy who starts Lipitor one week then helps his daughter move into her apartment the next. The lady who starts Crestor while training for a half-marathon. And so on.

The fact is that a lot of people take statins. And a lot of people (like, pretty much all of us) do things that can cause muscle injuries. Sooner or later these lines are going to intersect, but that doesn’t mean they have anything to do with each other.

It’s a lot harder to explain that, and have people believe it, once they’ve convinced themselves otherwise. Pravachol definitely did this, Dr. Google said so. It doesn’t help that trust in doctors, and health care science in general, has been eroded by political pundits and nonmedical experts during the COVID-19 pandemic. To some people our years of experience and training are nothing compared to what an anonymous guy on Parler told them.

Certainly this paper will help. A lot of people can benefit from statins. With this data maybe we can convince some to give them a fair shot.

But, as we’ve all experienced in practice, sometimes no amount of solid data will change the mind of someone who’s already made theirs up.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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