Huge numbers of people on potentially life-saving cholesterol medication have stopped taking it without consulting their doctor after watching an ABC television program, a survey of GPs has indicated. Up to 40 per cent of patients who were concerned by the Catalyst episodes had already gone off their medication, the survey found.
The two-part Catalyst series, presented by Dr Maryanne Demasi, claimed the causal link between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease was “the biggest myth in medical history” and cholesterol medications, known as statins, were toxic and potentially deadly. The second episode carried a warning that it should “not be taken as medical advice”.
Heart Foundation national director of cardiovascular health Rob Grenfell said the results were “frightening”.
The survey was commissioned by Merck Sharp & Dohme – which created the first statin in the early 1980s – and undertaken by market research company Cegedim, which surveyed 150 doctors.
It found 40 per cent of patients asking about statins had already stopped taking them, and the remaining 60 per cent wanted to stop.
About 58 per cent of those patients were considered to be at high risk of heart attack or stroke.
“These are people who should be on medications,” Dr Grenfell said. “If your risk is greater than 20 per cent – that is, you have a one in five chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years – you should be treated.”
People with elevated cholesterol levels but a lower risk of heart attack because they do not have other risk factors such as diabetes or high blood pressure, should still take steps to improve their health. But Dr Grenfell said it was difficult for GPs to help people implement lifestyle changes, as many factors were out of their control.
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