Health Consequences Of Steroid Use

While anabolic steroids do provide some gains, their abuse is related to a number of adverse effects physically. The most common adverse effects of anabolic steroid abuse may include heart ailments, stroke, cosmetic changes (changes in physical appearance), infertility, problems related to the prostate, damages to the musculoskeletal system and even toxicity of the liver.

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Physical appearance

Athletes who use anabolic steroids often experience a number of cosmetic changes, which are considered to be the adverse effects of using steroids. For instance, they commonly have an oily skin and acne. In addition, they may experience alterations in their hair patterns, for instance, an increase in the growth of their body hair and speedy male pattern baldness in individuals who are inclined to it. Other unwanted changes in their physical appearance may include enlargement of breast (a condition known as gynecomastia) in men or contraction of breast tissues in women.

While several of these changes are lasting and naturally cause distress to those who experience them, none of them actually pose a serious threat to any of the limbs or the life of the sufferers. In fact, the most serious danger to those using steroids constantly, particularly before their puberty or in their early teens, might possibly result in the untimely shutting down of the growth plates related to the long bones and this may cause some stunting in their height - making them shorter compared to the normal.

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Injuries to muscles and bones

Until now, it is not possible to differentiate the injuries caused to the musculoskeletal system owing to steroid use from the damages noticed in athletes involved in strength sports with unusual development of muscles without using any type of steroids. However, studies performed on animals suggest that those using steroids may face a greater risk of tendon breakage. In fact, there are numerous unreliable reports regarding athletes sustaining injuries, especially damages caused to their tendons and ligaments owing to steroid usage.


Scientists have studied the relation between the revocable results of administering steroid and male fertility for over two decades with the purpose of employing anabolic steroids in the form of a male contraceptive. It has been found that taking artificially prepared sex hormones disturbs the usual hormonal process. Several men who have been using steroids have asserted that although they initially resulted in an augmented libido (sexual craving), the sex drive actually declined when steroids are used for an extended period. Majority of men who administer elevated doses of steroids by themselves turn out to be infertile all through the period when they use the steroids and even for some time afterwards - may be for a period of six months or even more. However, administration of steroids cannot produce dependable sterility in all males. What is more, all steroids do not have the same effectiveness. While many scientists are of the view that using steroids in elevated doses and for an extended period of time increases the hazards of infertility, so far there is no reliable document regarding any such incident. Considerable decrease in the testicles' size owing to steroid use is a common problem that is associated with infertility in males.

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Heart disease

There are sufficient reasons to suppose that prolonged abuse of anabolic steroids is related to augmented cases of heart diseases. However, thus far this belief has not been demonstrated unambiguously. Use of steroids causes several physical changes and this may possibly explain the reason behind the enhanced chances of developing heart diseases owing to steroid abuse.

Lipid levels
It has been found that anabolic steroid use results in a decrease in the level of serum of a form of fat present in the bloodstream called HDLC or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, perhaps owing to the stimulating action of the steroids on a liver enzyme that is responsible for regulating fats in the bloodstream. The lessening of the HDLC, which is also known as 'good or beneficial' cholesterol, is beneficial clinically and epidemiological studies conducted on men not using any steroid have recognized it to be a key element of danger for developing heart disease as well as stroke. However, this change seems to be revocable, as the levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol start recovering in just about a month of discontinued steroid use.
While several studies have documented such drop in the HDLC levels owing to steroid use by athletes, it cannot be described as an unavoidable outcome, as all steroids do not have the same degree of this effect. Steroids that are taken by mouth have a notably enhanced and distinct negative effect on the levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol present in the bloodstream, perhaps owing to their taxing effect on the liver in general. Although a number of studies have documented a rise in the overall cholesterol levels due to steroid use, this does not happen in most cases. It seems that the decline in HDLC circulation is counterbalanced by an enhancement of LDLC or low-density lipid cholesterol, which is also known as 'bad cholesterol, to ensure that the overall level of cholesterol in the bloodstream stays constant.
Glucose tolerance
It has been found that a number of anabolic steroids have the potential to result in glucose intolerance, which similar to changes in fat content in the bloodstream, is itself believed to be an element of danger that may lead to the development of heart diseases. In fact, these types of steroids also have the aptitude to weaken the mechanism of our body that controls the insulin amount and result in excessive production of insulin. Researchers have hinted that steroids and testosterone work to augment the chances of developing heart diseases by means of their influence on insulin production.
Blood pressure
Although some people have asserted that use of steroids results in high blood pressure (hypertension), it seems that all such claims are overstated. In fact, such claims are founded on some researches that show some rise in blood pressure, which are actually of little or no importance clinically.
Heart tissue
Six decades have passed since the first studies were conducted to find how testosterone affected animals' heart muscles. In addition, researched undertaken four decades ago established that administering anabolic steroids to animals changed their myocardial performance. All these studies on animals revealed that androgen receptors are present in the heart and that use of anabolic steroids may lead to failure of the heart to function normally.
The cardiac condition called cardiomegaly, wherein the heart is enlarged, is not always considered to be something bad. In fact, doing regular exercise on its own results in an increase in the size of the heart which is not harmful, but denotes a physical alteration by the muscles of the heart to enhance blood circulation with a view to fulfill the augmented demands of the body. Every normal heart beat causes the left ventricle (the foremost pumping compartment of the heart) to drive out anything from 50 percent to 80 percent of blood into the chamber, subject to the level of activity. This action is known as the ejection fraction. However, if the heart is enlarged owing to any disease or using any drug, its competence becomes less causing the ejection fraction to drop lower than 40 percent. In other words, this denotes that the heart is no longer capable of pumping the desired amount of blood or the volume of blood demanded physically. When this occurs, the individual experiences shortness of breath and weariness, and cannot maintain a high intensity of physical activities.
The first incidence of stroke (also called cerebrovascular accident) and cardiomyopathy (heart disease, as mentioned in medical terminology) related to use of anabolic steroid was testified in 1988. Ever since, there have been several other similar case reports that indicated that anabolic steroid use may possibly result in such hazardous enlargement as well as failing of the left ventricle of the heart.

Stroke and heart attack

Excessive use of steroids or their abuse has lately turned out to be a potential reason for developing thrombotic stroke - the type that occurs due to formation of blood clots in the vessels. Medical literature mentions about numerous case reports related to athletes and also talks about a young man who enhanced his oral consumption of a type of testosterone, which the physicians had prescribed him in order to aid him to recover after having this type of stroke. Moreover, details of numerous incidences of stroke suffered by Japanese men taking elevated doses of anabolic steroids for treating a form of anemia have also been reported. While there is no existence of any direct evidence, scientists are skeptical about the clinical conditions of such reports, which hint a likely association between using steroids and the chances of developing strokes. In case there is an existence of any casual association between the two, it may perhaps be considered as the maiden proof of the fact that steroids possibly have serious, but temporary effects.

Prostate diseases

Women taking oral contraceptives have somewhat increased chances of developing breast cancer, because birth control pills are actually contain sex hormones. Similarly, men using steroids may possibly have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. While prostate cancer usually afflicts older males, in America, it is the second main cause of deaths due to cancer in men - the first being lung cancer. Physicians are aware of the fact that the male sex hormone testosterone has a negative influence on prostate cancer. Hence, the usual treatment for this condition already comprises blocking or diminishing the production and secretion of testosterone inside the body. According to a case report, a bodybuilder developed prostate cancer very early in life - when he was just 40 years old. It is most likely that men who are using steroids now will have a greater chance of developing prostate cancer when they grow older.

Liver disease and cancer

There is no doubt that steroids cause a powerful negative impact on the functioning of the liver. This is not amazing, as the liver is the main location from where our body gets rid of steroids. In effect, all the alterations in the liver's structure have been found to be related with a form of orally used steroids called 17 alpha-alkylated steroids. Oral use of steroids exposes the liver to the entire dose of the medication prior to its distribution in the circulation. Such type of exposure may be especially unsafe or even hazardous in people who have been suffering from impaired functioning of the liver from before owing to other different reasons. Abuse or excessive use of anabolic steroids may also cause liver injuries in many other ways.

Jaundice, a health condition when the color of the skin as well as the white spaces in the eyes turn yellowish, is caused when the flow of bile is obstructed. In fact, it has been found that many patients suffering from serious ailments and who have been using anabolic steroids suffer from obstructed bile flow. Physicians got the first hint that use of a number of anabolic steroids may lead to liver problems when they tried using an anabolic steroid called methyltestosterone for treating the serious itching that accompanies a condition known as obstructive jaundice. The condition of majority of the patients suffering from jaundice worsened when they were administered methyltestosterone. While numerous athletes have taken steroids that have been related to blockage of bile flow as well as jaundice, in all likelihood they discontinue using steroids when they developed jaundice. There is virtually no data associated with jaundice in healthy people because of the reason mentioned above as well as the fact that thus far there have been very few documented incidences of jaundice in sportspersons and athletes.
Peliosis hepatis
The condition peliosis hepatis, wherein cavities in the liver are filled with cysts having blood, is a potentially serious health disorder. Prior to the period when steroids were developed, this particular condition was found more or less solely in people suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. However, as many as 70 incidences of peliosis hepatis have been reported now and all these cases are related to use of male hormones. This condition is hazardous primarily because it is not diagnosed easily and usually the patients do not have any symptoms. The patient may die almost immediately owing to internal hemorrhage if these blood-filled cysts burst.
Liver tumours
Oral use of anabolic steroids is also known to enhance the chances of developing liver tumours. Most often, the form of tumours that occur are benign or non-cancerous, but they may prove to be life-threatening. In fact, many such tumours related to taking anabolic steroids were diagnosed, as they burst and resulted in severe or sometimes lethal internal hemorrhages. There is at least one reported case of hepatocellular carcinoma in an athlete, who used to take steroids and died due to this type of metastatic cancer. In yet another incident, an athlete who took steroids died due to internal bleeding after the rupture of a form of tumour known as adenoma (a benign cancer that has its origin in any gland that secretes substances). In a third such case, although the patient developed adenoma, it did not prove to be fatal as it was got rid of through surgery.

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