Thanks to its well-documented abuse in the athletic and body building arenas, anabolic steroids have developed a bad reputation. However, contrary to popular opinion, most steroid users are not athletes after a better performance or gym rats hoping for more well-defined muscles. Doctors regularly prescribe the drugs as a proven method for helping patients who suffer from a wide variety of conditions and illnesses.
The ABCs of Anabolic Steroids
Properly known as anabolic-androgenic steroids, anabolic steroids are a family of synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of testosterone, the male sex hormone, on the body. They do this by boosting protein in the cells. They cause an increase in lean muscle mass and encourage the growth of hair and the vocal chords, among other secondary male sexual characteristics.
Anabolic steroids were first developed in the 1930s and found use in the medical community as a treatment for delayed puberty and wasting conditions, such as cancer. The use of the steroid compounds would increase the appetite, which helped patients regain weight after suffering an injury, a severe illness, or an ongoing infection. It also was used to combat other conditions causing weight loss that had no ready medical explanation.
Today, anabolic steroids are part of the arsenal of drugs used in the battle against AIDS. The drugs also have been used successfully to treat conditions such as certain kinds of anemia and some types of breast cancer.
Doctors have discovered other beneficial uses for the compounds, though these uses are not yet included as part of the official product labeling. Thy include helping with hereditary angioedema, which can cause swelling of the legs and arms, sex organs, windpipe and throat, bowels, and face. Steroids also have been prescribed for various types of allergies, some blood clotting diseases, and to combat a failure to grow.
Anabolic Steroid Abuse and Its Side Effects
As with many drugs that are produced to help a certain patient population, anabolic steroids can be abused by others who use it for unapproved reasons. Abusers typically are taking advantage of its ability to help improve athletic performance and build muscle mass.
Since they often take doses that are many times what a doctor would prescribe for an approved use, many abusers will face having to deal with the side effects of the drug, some of which can be severe. Side effects include both short- and long-term problems.
In the short term, anabolic steroids abuse can result in unwelcome physical and mental changes. These can include extreme acne, hand and foot swelling, paranoid jealousy, delusions or false beliefs, and intense irritability. Even in the most mild mannered individual, there can be swift mood changes that may result in angry arguments that lead to physical violence. These instances have become known as “roid rage.”
Long-term effects can include health problems that are severe and that could become permanent. These include problems with the kidneys or full-blown kidney failure, damage to the liver, and an enlarged heart and high blood pressure. These heart problems will increase the chances of a heart attack or stroke, even among the youngest users.
Other conditions that can come from anabolic steroid abuse will depend on the age or gender of the user. They can include stunted growth, shrinking testicles and a lower sperm count, a change in the menstrual cycle, male pattern baldness, and the development of breasts.