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Patients swamp GPs in heart pill confusion
TV fallout: Worried patients have swamped GPs. Picture: The West Australian

WA doctors are being inundated with patients asking if they should dump their anti-cholesterol drugs after a television documentary suggested the pills were overprescribed and doing more harm than good.

Experts are furious by claims in the ABC medical science program Catalyst that cholesterol is a heart disease myth and the drugs statins have few benefits and significant side effects.

The program was a rating success, with almost one million capital-city viewers tuning in to the series on the past two Thursdays.

There is now speculation the ABC has left itself open to litigation after reports of worried patients taking themselves off the drugs without telling their doctor.

Some critics claim the program was heavily biased to the views of several hand-picked US doctors, nutritionists and "suntanned charismatics" who played down the role of cholesterol and saturated fats in heart disease.

Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong said one in five patients he had seen at his Port Kennedy practice in the past two days came because they were worried about their prescribed statins.

"I've reassured them there is good evidence of the benefits of statins but also made the point that cholesterol does need to be kept in perspective and isn't the only factor," Dr Choong said.

Heart Foundation national chief executive Lyn Roberts said home care nurses visiting patients had discovered some people had stopped taking their pills.

"That's of concern because some of these people actually have heart disease, so to go off their medication is very dangerous," Dr Roberts said. "We are shocked by the program's disregard of the strong medical evidence and are considering our next course of action once we've got through the next few days."

Despite a backlash after the first episode, the ABC maintained the program was fair but added a disclaimer saying it was not intended as medical advice.

Heart Foundation WA chief executive Maurice Swanson said each episode should have started with a strong health warning rather than having a weak disclaimer "tacked on".