Effects of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors on skeletal muscle: are all statins the same?

Drug Saf. 2002;25(9):649-63. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200225090-00004.


The 3-hydroxy-3-methyl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors or statins, specifically inhibit the enzyme HMG-CoA in the liver, thereby inhibiting the rate limiting step in cholesterol biosynthesis and so reducing plasma cholesterol levels. Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that cholesterol lowering with statin therapy reduces morbidity and mortality from coronary heart disease, whilst recent evidence has demonstrated that benefits of statin therapy may also extend into stroke prevention. Since hypercholesterolaemia is a chronic condition, the long-term safety and tolerability of these agents is an important issue. Numerous large-scale clinical trials have consistently demonstrated a positive safety and tolerability profile for statins. Hepatic, renal and muscular systems are rarely affected during statin therapy, with adverse reactions involving skeletal muscle being the most common, ranging from mild myopathy to myositis and occasionally to rhabdomyolysis and death. Postmarketing data supports the positive safety and tolerability profile of statins, with an overall adverse event frequency of less than 0.5% and a myotoxicity event rate of less than 0.1%. The recent withdrawal of cerivastatin from the world market due to deaths from rhabdomyolysis has, however, focused attention on the risk of adverse events and in particular myotoxicity associated with statins. Indeed, initial clinical trial data supports postmarketing data, demonstrating a higher incidence of myotoxicity associated with cerivastatin, particularly when used in combination with fibrates. The potential mechanisms underlying statin-induced myotoxicity are complex with no clear consensus of opinion. Candidate mechanisms include intracellular depletion of essential metabolites and destabilisation of cell membranes, resulting in increased cytotoxicity. Cytochrome P450 3A4 is the main isoenzyme involved in statin metabolism. Reduced activity of this enzyme due to either reduced expression or inhibition by other drugs prescribed concomitantly such as cyclosporin or itraconazole may increase drug bioavailability and the risk of myotoxicity. Such factors may partly account for the interindividual variability in susceptibility to statin-induced myotoxicity, although other as of yet unclarified, genetic factors may also be involved. The risk of rhabdomyolysis is increased with combination fibrate-statin therapy, with initial evidence suggesting that gemfibrozil-statin combination may particularly increase the risk of myotoxicity, with pharmacodynamic as well as pharmacokinetic mechanisms being involved.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Rhabdomyolysis / chemically induced*
  • Risk Factors


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors