Harmful Effects of Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids are chemicals derived from testosterone that are used to improve athletic performance. However, these are doping drugs that have many harmful effects, especially if you use them without the guidance of a physician.
Harmful Effects of Anabolic Steroids

Last update: 01 March, 2020

When you want to practice a sport, you probably want to achieve the best performance possible. With good planning, adequate nutrition, and sufficient rest you can meet your objectives and improve your results. However, certain people use anabolic steroids to elevate their performance even more. Unfortunately, they don’t always know the harmful effects that those substances can have.

What are anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids aren’t the only doping chemicals that athletes use to improve their performance, but they are the most common. They’re especially common in sports such as bodybuilding or high-intensity disciplines such as CrossFit.

These substances are synthetic compositions that emulate testosterone; that is, they’re derived from it. Testosterone has an anabolic effect on the body, which means it stimulates the muscle cells and strengthens the ones you have. In that way, the consumption of anabolic steroids increases muscle development and makes you stronger.

Anabolic steroid users

First, let’s differentiate between two times of habitual users. The first type is bodybuilders or elite athletes that need this extra dose to be competitive in their disciplines. 

Nowadays, no bodybuilder can make it to the highest level of competition without consuming at least some of these chemical compounds. Generally, these athletes are under the care of a physician to reduce the harmful side effects, and they take them as little as possible.

The second type of consumer is who you should worry about it. These are frequent visitors to the gym who don’t practice any sport competitively. They use these substances as a “shortcut” to bulk up more quickly or for aesthetic purposes.

A man giving himself a shot in the abdomen.

These types of people only rely on information in forums on the internet rather than a professional, and it’s possible that they experience side effects as a result.

Harmful effects of anabolic steroids: consumption

You must remember that these substances are medicine, and they have negative side effects that could appear in any doses. Actually, many use anabolic steroids at a dose much higher than recommended, making the negative effects even more pronounced. You shouldn’t consume them without the guidance of a physician under any circumstances.

Androgynous effects:

Since they’re derivatives of testosterone, they also contain androgenous effects in addition to the anabolic effects. These may include:

  • Increase in sexual desire.
  • Acne.
  • Higher aggression or impulsiveness.
  • Hair loss.
  • Masculine physical characteristics in women.
  • Gynocomastia – the development of breasts in men – as a result of the mixing of testosterone and estrogen.

Even though it increases sexual desire, the body stops producing testosterone in the male testicles. This results in testicular atrophy, and when you stop taking the anabolics, you may experience impotence or a decrease in sexual desire without treatment.

All of this comes from hormonal deregulation as a result of introducing external hormones and synthesizing it within your body.

Hepatotoxicity: anabolic steroids

Most anabolics are toxic for the liver tissue. The liver suffers trying to metabolize it, which is why most people inject it. That way, it doesn’t pass through the liver in the same way that it would if you consumed it orally.

Though this doesn’t reduce all of the harmful effects, it’s common for people to use hepatic protectors during the time in which they consume the anabolics. However, since they’re expensive products, many non-expert users decide not to take them.

This can be fatal, and if you overdose or abuse its use, then you can take your liver to its limit and suffer from immediate liver failure.

A female bodybuilder lifting weights.

Heart failure

Lastly, one of the harmful effects long-term of the consumption of anabolic steroids is heart failure. Many bodybuilders suffer from this condition a few years after retiring, usually around the age of 50. Normally, these types of complications don’t appear in people until around 70 years of age.

Most anabolic steroids stimulate the growth of the heart muscles – remember, the heart is also a muscle – and consumers can develop concentric hypertrophy that dilates the heart and makes the pumping of blood inefficient. In advanced stages, patients might even need a heart transplant or mechanical devices that help the heart work.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Horwitz H, Andersen JT, Dalhoff KP. Health consequences of androgenic anabolic steroid use. J Intern Med [Internet]. 2019 Mar [cited 2019 Jul 24];285(3):333–40. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30460728
  • Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA. Medical issues associated with anabolic steroid use: are they exaggerated? J Sports Sci Med [Internet]. 2006 [cited 2019 Jul 24];5(2):182–93. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24259990
  • Hartgens F, Kuipers H. Effects of Androgenic-Anabolic Steroids in Athletes. Sport Med [Internet]. 2004 [cited 2019 Jul 24];34(8):513–54. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15248788

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.