The National Heart Foundation of Australia is urging people not to change their medication or ignore their cholesterol levels following the recent ABC Catalyst report questioning the benefits of statins in the treatment of heart disease.

One in three Australian adults, or 5.6 million Australians have high cholesterol – a risk factor for Australia’s number one killer of men and women.

The recent ABC Catalyst program questioned whether cholesterol is an important risk factor for heart disease and suggested the benefits of statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) were overstated.

The Heart Foundation’s National CEO Dr Lyn Roberts says the program has caused confusion in the community and she is worried it may put lives at risk.

“We know patients are already contacting their GPs and health professionals anxious about their heart health on the basis of the program. The Heart Foundation and the wider medical community are concerned that people may have been misled and might stop taking their statins without consulting their doctor,” Dr Roberts says.

“The conclusions presented in the ABC Catalyst program are not supported by the Heart Foundation or the vast majority of the medical and scientific communities across the country and internationally … We are shocked by the disregard of the evidence and we are considering our next course of action,” she says.

The Heart Foundation’s Chief Medical Adviser Professor James Tatoulis said that after a heart attack, treatment with a statin is standard, evidence-based management.

“Cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins, are the most commonly prescribed drugs in Australia and are a very effective way of reducing the risk of having a heart attack, particularly for people who have heart disease,” Prof Tatoulis says.

“Some of the largest studies ever conducted in medicine have demonstrated that statins decrease further heart attacks and save lives.

“The Heart Foundation recommends that cholesterol, along with other risk factors including blood pressure, BMI, family history, smoking and physical inactivity are all considered when determining someone’s risk and if they need drug treatment.

“We want everyone to be aware of their risk factors and recommend everyone 45 and over (35 if you are Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander person) to visit their GP annually for a heart health check to calculate their risk of having a heart attack and discuss how to manage their risks with their doctor.”

Information from the Heart Foundation on how to lower your cholesterol is available on their website.