Possible Health Effects of Anabolic Steroids



Editors
Linn Goldberg, MD



Additional Resources
NIDA (NIH)

A number of unhealthy and damaging effects may result from the use of anabolic steroids that can lead to both emotional and physical problems. Studies have shown that abuse of steroids can increase aggressive behavior, cause mood swings, and impair judgment. Other reported effects include male-pattern baldness, acne, and liver damage. Using steroids can increase the risk of heart disease, stimulate the growth of certain cancers, and worsen other medical problems.

Steroids taken orally (by mouth) have been linked to liver disease. Steroids taken by injection (by needle) can increase the risk of infectious diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS. In one study, 25% of steroid users shared needles.

Equally troubling, anabolic steroids can prevent a person from reaching their natural height. Young, developing bodies are particularly sensitive to anabolic steroids, and some of the side effects may be permanent. In addition to stunting height among growing adolescents, these steroids can trigger the growth of breasts in males. This can happen because the chemical structure of certain anabolic steroids is converted to the female hormone estrogen by a chemical reaction in the body.

On the other hand, females may develop a deeper voice, an enlarged clitoris, and facial hair growth caused by the masculinizing effect of testosterone-like hormones. Women and girls also may experience the loss of scalp hair as well. These are potentially permanent side effects. Although long-term studies are scarce, experts believe that some harmful effects may not appear until many years after the abuse of these drugs.

Possible Health Effects of Steroid Use:

  • Increased risk of liver, kidney, and prostate cancer
  • High blood pressure, which increases the chance of heart attack and stroke
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels, which increase the chance of heart attack and blood vessel disease
  • Premature stopping of bone development and linear growth (height)
  • Damage to the liver, including the formation of blood filled liver cysts that can rupture, causing death
  • Acne
  • Increased risk of HIV and hepatitis because of risks from sharing needles
  • In males: Baldness, breast formation, shrunken testicles, and the temporary inability to father a child
  • In females: Decreased breast size, irregular menstrual cycles, and masculine appearance, particularly an enlarged clitoris, facial and body hair, and a deep voice

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disruption
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Extreme irritability
  • Delusions
  • Impaired judgment because of feelings that nothing can hurt you
  • Paranoid jealousy
  • Euphoria or an exaggerated feeling of well-being
  • Depression after stopping steroids
  • Lack of sexual drive after stopping steroid use