Both my parents had high cholesterol, so I always had that on my radar of “things to look out for.” Despite my family health history, my cholesterol readings came back in a normal range for me. That is, until I turned 40 years old and my annual blood work showed I now had high blood cholesterol. My doctor prescribed me statins, and I went about my life thinking not much would change. I was wrong.
I started having some pains—pains in my legs, knees and hips. I was a bit overweight and wasn’t exercising, so I just assumed that I was sore from the excess weight and any activity I was doing. I started taking joint supplements and trying some natural remedies to ease the pain. I would come home from work and ice my knees. I really felt terrible for many years.
Then, at the age of 50, I was diagnosed with diabetes. My doctor didn’t feel that I was taking my condition seriously, so she encouraged me to start seeing a health coach through work. The health coach helped me to rethink the way I was managing my diabetes, and I started becoming more active. One day, I told her about all the aches and pains I was having. “Have you ever considered it might be your statins?” she asked me. I truly had never considered it. And I’m a nurse! I immediately told my doctor about my conversation with the health coach, and she suggested I stop taking statins. Within a few days, I felt different. I remember driving down the road and every muscle in my body just unclenched. I had been walking and driving around with extremely tight muscles and I didn’t even realize it. I felt so much better.
My doctor wasn’t happy, however, with me not taking statins at all. She wanted me to start back on a different statin. I agreed, but within days, I found myself tightening up. I would tell her that I wasn’t tolerating it, and we would then try another statin. This went on for years. In 2015, I switched doctors because I needed one closer to me. She thought it was fine for me to be off the statins because my cholesterol levels weren’t that high. So for the past few years, I stayed off medicine. I took other supplements and became a lot more active. I started bike riding every day for 30 minutes and kayaking every weekend. I also live on a farm so that keeps me pretty active as well.
The flip flopping of doctors continued. This past March, my doctor left the practice. The new doctor felt strongly that I start up on medication again. She said I could try taking it at night to ease side effects and to start off slowly by taking it only once or twice a week. I was so concerned that I would react that I decided not to take the meds. But I realize that this is an issue. I haven’t taken the medications and I know that I need to figure out how to lower my cholesterol and protect myself from having any cardiovascular events, especially given my family history.
My parents took statins for many years and never mentioned any adverse side effects like the muscle cramps and aches I experienced. I wonder now if they didn’t have any issues or if they didn’t realize they were having issues. I know they work really well for many people, but I guess I’m not one of those people. I’m about to turn 60 and I certainly want to stay healthy, but I also want to continue biking and kayaking and working on the farm without worrying about severe pain as part of my daily life.
My doctor and I are working on a plan for how I can lower my cholesterol but not have to deal with debilitating side effects from medicine. I want other women to know that they should be aware of how they feel. For some people, the benefits may outweigh the side effects. For others, it may be important to find other ways to lower your cholesterol so you can have an improved quality of life.