Statins and Motor Neurone Disease

Sixty-five-year-old, Paul Gill, started to develop muscle weakness and weight loss, losing 4 stone in weight. He struggled to climb steps, eventually becoming so weak that he needed a wheelchair. He had multiple investigations including MRI and CT scans.  Doctors finally told him he had motor neuron disease. Two people at the rugby club that he used to play for had developed this horrible disease and he knew it was a death sentence. He was resigned to his fate. He was going to die so he stopped his 40mg atorvastatin tablet. But remarkably, he started to improve. Eventually he was told he had a statin-induced myopathy and not motor neuron disease. A death sentence had been lifted. But perhaps he had been lucky for it seems statins can induce motor neurone disease.


What is the relationship between statins and motor neurone disease? Statins are known to increase the incidence of motor neurone disease. Depending on the type of statin, they increase the risk between nine-fold and twenty-three-fold. Malcolm Kendrick, author of Statin Nation, has estimated this will lead to an extra 23,750 cases per year cases of motor neuron disease in the UK and USA combined. And then some cases, like Paul Gill, get misdiagnosed as motor neuron disease. And this could easily deteriorate into serious disability and even death  if no one twigged that it was the statins causing the illness.

The headlines often claim “statins save lives” but in my opinion, doctors are far too quick to dole them out (see statin leaflet for more information on the marginal benefits of these drugs). But let’s not forget they sometimes contribute to one of the most feared diseases or, as in Paul Gill’s case, mimic it very closely.