Warning over serious statins side effect as health chiefs urge patients taking cholesterol-busting pills to ‘be alert’ to potentially killer complication

  • Seven types of statins have been linked to a muscle-weakening condition
  • Patients should look out for droopy eyelids and double vision, watchdog warned

Millions of Brits taking cholesterol-busting drugs should be on the lookout for a potentially lethal side effect, health chiefs have warned.

Seven types of statins, including all five dished out in the UK, have been linked to myasthenia gravis — a long-term muscle-weakening condition that can be life-threatening in severe cases. 

Patients taking the once-a-day pill should watch out for symptoms including droopy eyelids, double vision and difficulty swallowing, the medicines watchdog warned.

Atorvastatin, sold under the brand name Lipitor, pravastatin (Lipostat) and lovastatin (Mevacor) — which slashes the risk of heart attacks and strokes — are among the varieties of statins affected. 

Cases of myasthenia gravis were also detected among patients taking fluvastatin (Lescol), simvastatin (Zocor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and pitavastatin (Livalo).

Seven types of statins medications have been linked to myasthenia gravis — a long-term muscle-weakening condition that can be life-threatening in severe cases

The fresh advice from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) states that a ‘very small number’ of myasthenia gravis cases have been linked to statin use.

Around 8million Brits take statins, which usually must be taken for lift to keep cholesterol low. It is thought the complication is ‘very infrequent’, the MHRA said.

Most patients who suffered the side effect recovered after they stopped taking the medication but a minority continued to suffer from symptoms.

Some of those who restarted their medication or tried a different type of statin reported that their symptoms came back.

The MHRA told medics to refer patients suffering new-onset myasthenia gravis after starting statins to a neurology specialist. 

And patients who already have the condition should monitor whether their symptoms worsen while taking the drugs. 

Patients may need to stop taking statins depending on their individual benefits and risks, the watchdog said.

Statins work by lowering the levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol produced by the liver. 

Too much LDL cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis — when the arteries harden and narrow — heart attacks, strokes and heart disease.

Brits diagnosed with a form of cardiovascular disease or those who have a family history of the condition may be recommended the medication.

Headaches, nausea and diarrhoea are well-known mild side effects from taking statins. But the MHRA warning adds myasthenia gravis to the list.

The condition usually weakens muscles that control the eyes, eyelids, facial expressions, chewing, swallowing and speaking. 

Difficulties making facial expressions, slurred speech weak shortness of breath are among the common symptoms. 

Medicine to boost muscle strength and surgery to remove a small gland in the chest that has been linked to myasthenia gravis may be offered to ease symptoms. 

While the condition doesn’t affect life expectancy for most people, it can be life-threatening if weakens the muscles needed for breathing.

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