Anabolic steroids were first developed in then1930’s and in the years since have been used and abused by both men and women in an attempt to be stronger, faster and more muscular. Scientists have been aware of many of the side effects from short term use of anabolic steroids but now have been able to also define the effects of long term steroid use. As the population of steroid users ages and develop health issues the medical field is learning more and more about the long term effects of steroid use. Most people don’t think about the long term consequences when they are trying to make a choice but these side effects need to be seriously considered.
The first one I want to mention is probably the deadliest of all and that is HIV. I know, I can just hear you “never happen to me” but when you combine IV drug use, as many of the steroids used are injected with a needle, needle sharing , and the increased sex drive and libido you’ve got a potentially dangerous situation. Teens and young adults that have not yet developed good decision making skills and are highly susceptible to peer pressure are particularly at risk. HIV and AIDS related deaths have been increasing and those that either have that “that happens to other people” attitude or don’t even consider the possibility are the ones most at risk for developing HIV.
Liver failure is another potentially fatal complication. The liver is one of those vital organs that we can’t live without and there are no machines available to do it’s function like dialysis for kidney’s. The only treatment for liver failure is a transplant and people with a history of steroid use rarely make good candidates. People that use steroids over a long period of time develop small blood filled cysts in their liver and though they can fade away after steroid use is stopped they create tumors that do not fade away and sit there quietly in your liver until suddenly one day they burst and you are suddenly hemorrhaging.
Now, lets talk about the effects on your cardiac system. As discussed in the short term side effects of steroid use the long term effects of high blood pressure on your cardiac system are significant. In addition to high blood pressure you also have high cholesterol levels because steroid use changes the amount of lipoproteins available to carry the cholesterol in the bloodstream. Oral steroids are notorious for increasing your LDL or “bad” cholesterol while lowering you HDL or “good” cholesterol. This significantly increases your risk for developing atherosclerosis. This is a deadly combination that can lead to heart attacks, stroke, aneurysms, organ failure and on and on. Though there are medications to control your blood pressure and manage your cholesterol levels these conditions are called “silent killers” for a reason, most people don’t know they have them. Because there are no symptoms of a problem most steroid users refuse to acknowledge the possibility that something could be wrong until it’s too late.
There are also several less deadly long term side effects to steroid use including stunted growth. Adolescents that use steroids when going through puberty are likely to end up being short, for the rest of their life. Puberty is a crucial period in life that affects your future growth. When the brain going through puberty senses the hormones in your body have reached a certain level it sends the signals to your bones to stop growing, this in turn closes the growth plates in your long bones leaving you permanently shorter than you would’ve been. Remember. your brain can not tell the difference between hormones your body makes and the hormones you put into it.
Another thing most body builders don’t think about is your joints and ligaments. While using steroids increases muscle strength and mass they do nothing for your joints and ligaments. This means that as the muscles grow in mass and strength they put more and more strain on the ligaments that anchor them resulting in injuries, usually the shoulders and knees are at risk for the most severe injuries. In fact most steroid users will require surgery to repair torn ligaments. The joints also injure easily because they aren’t built to cope with the weight the muscles exert and frequently steroid users also need joint replacement surgery, especially for the knee.
Then when you decide to stop using steroids the muscle mass starts to shrink and turn to fat. Most former steroid users complain of difficulty controlling weight gain and losing excess soft tissue and “flab” that develop when your muscles are no longer being fed a steady diet of testosterone. Just as excess body fat has long term consequences for non-steroid users it has those same consequences for people that used steroids.
When trying to make a decision that can change your life it’s important to remember the change can affect you for the rest of your life as well.