Muscle Toxicity of Drugs: When Drugs Turn Physiology into Pathophysiology

Lando Janssen, Neeltje A.E. Allard, Christiaan G.J. Saris, Jaap Keijer, Maria T.E. Hopman, Silvie Timmers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Drugs are prescribed to manage or prevent symptoms and diseases, but may sometimes cause unexpected toxicity to muscles. The symptomatology and clinical manifestations of the myotoxic reaction can vary significantly between drugs and between patients on the same drug. This poses a challenge on how to recognize and prevent the occurrence of drug-induced muscle toxicity. The key to appropriate management of myotoxicity is prompt recognition that symptoms of patients may be drug related and to be aware that inter-individual differences in susceptibility to drug-induced toxicity exist. The most prevalent and well-documented drug class with unintended myotoxicity are the statins, but even today new classes of drugs with unintended myotoxicity are being discovered. This review will start off by explaining the principles of drug-induced myotoxicity and the different terminologies used to distinguish between grades of toxicity. The main part of the review will focus on the most important pathogenic mechanisms by which drugs can cause muscle toxicity, which will be exemplified by drugs with high risk of muscle toxicity. This will be done by providing information on key clinical and laboratory aspects, muscle electromyography patterns and biopsy results, and pathological mechanism and management for a specific drug from each pathogenic classification. In addition, rather new classes of drugs with unintended myotoxicity will be highlighted. Furthermore, we will explain why it is so difficult to diagnose drug-induced myotoxicity, and which tests can be used as a diagnostic aid. Lastly, a brief description will be given of how to manage and treat drug-induced myotoxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-672
Number of pages40
JournalPhysiological reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • drug-induced myopathy
  • muscle toxicity
  • statin myopathy
  • statins


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