Australia's peak heart advisory group says 55,000 people stopped taking medication because of a controversial ABC TV Catalyst episode, and that could cause 2000 heart attacks and strokes.
The National Heart Foundation says its estimates - based on a national survey of almost 1100 Australians prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins - show an alarmingly high number of people were scared off their medication after watching or hearing about the TV show.
The program aired claims in October that the link between cholesterol and heart disease was a myth and that statins were overprescribed and dangerous.
The foundation survey last month found 22 per cent of people, or an estimated 130,000 people, had stopped or reduced their statins.
Foundation national director of cardiovascular health Robert Grenfell said there were potentially 55,000 Australians who had stopped their medication as a direct result of the show.
"Around 40 per cent of people who completely stopped their medication have either (previously) had a heart attack or stroke, have heart disease or have two risk factors - high blood pressure and diabetes," Dr Grenfell said.
"The frightening reality is, if many of these people stay off their medication, we could potentially be looking at 2000 or more heart attacks and strokes over the next five years, and that's a very conservative estimate."
Foundation chief executive Lyn Roberts said the survey showed that almost half of those who stopped their medication did not consult their GP and might not survive another heart attack.
Heart Foundation WA president John O'Shea said the survey results confirmed early fears of mass confusion and people putting their lives at risk by going off medication.
"Catalyst might think it's had a great ratings success but from the point of view of public health and promoting a balanced message, it has been a great failure," Dr O'Shea said.