It's only a matter of time before misinformation and alarm about a cholesterol-lowering drug used in the prevention of heart disease and stroke causes Australian deaths, according to one leading cardiovascular specialist.
One in four adults over the age of 60, or almost two million Australians, are prescribed some form of statin. But Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Sydney and principal director of the George Institute for Global Health, Stephen MacMahon, fears that inaccurate information will lead some Australians to stop taking the drug, with potentially fatal consequences.
In February the United States' Food and Drug Administration updated the information that it provides to doctors and patients about the safety of statins.
But Professor MacMahon said a 3 per cent increase in the number of people having trouble controlling insulin levels was incorrectly reported as a rise in diabetes.
''With blood glucose control, it's a few per cent - a small increase, and in the context of a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in having a heart attack or stroke it is a balanced risk,'' Professor MacMahon said.
''In other studies, there was no increase [in] glucose control problems, so there is uncertainty as to whether this really occurs or not.
''But if it does, it's small and it's more than offset by the benefits of reduced heart attack and stroke.''
Professor MacMahon said in other media reports ''reversible memory loss'' was labelled dementia.
''Dementia is not reversible and the FDA report was clear it was a few instances of reversible memory loss,'' he said.
''It's almost certain that some people will stop taking their treatment and will probably suffer a stroke or heart attack as a consequence.''
Professor MacMahon is angry about headlines such as ''Now doctors fear for some, the side effects could be devastating'' from Britain's Daily Mail.
''Given that most of the people who take statin are in their 60s to 70s and are already concerned about dementia, not unreasonably so, to misrepresent a few cases of reversible memory loss as an increase in dementia is really problematic,'' he said.
Research fellow at the George Institute for Global Health, Ruth Webster, said almost two million Australian adults were taking statins.
''In January, there were 1,883,804 prescriptions filled for statins ,including statins alone as well as the few combination medications containing statins,'' Dr Webster said.
''Considering that statins are dispensed in monthly amounts, it is pretty safe to say that this figure represents the number of people taking statins in Australia currently.''
Professor MacMahon said there was no reason for Australians to go to their doctors for review. But the chairwoman of ACT Medicare Local, Rashmi Sharma, disagreed.
Dr Sharma said that if Canberrans were worried, they should make an appointment with their GP.
But she urged people to keep taking statin as prescribed.
''We have different prescribing guidelines in Australia than in the US and your doctor would have had a good reason for putting you on statin in the first place,'' she said.