New evidence from a group of Swedish and British scientists points to a clearly increased risk of dying prematurely in people who misuse anabolic steroids.
Anabolic steroids are potentially addictive medications that doctors use to treat a limited number of physical health problems. Unfortunately, significant numbers of people also misuse these medications in order to increase their muscle mass, improve athletic performance or recover from sports injuries. In a study published in May 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Sweden and the United Kingdom sought to identify the likelihood that a person who improperly uses an anabolic steroid will die at an unusually young age, especially from heart- and blood vessel-related (i.e., cardiovascular) causes.
Anabolic steroids are known more formally as anabolic-androgenic steroids, or AAS. The term anabolic describes these substances’ ability to promote an increase in muscle mass, while the term androgenic describes their ability to promote formation of the sexual traits found in post-pubescent boys and men. Federal law limits the distribution of AAS, and doctors can only prescribe these medications for ailments such as delayed-onset puberty and AIDS- or cancer-related muscle decline. Various steroid products come in forms that include injectable liquids, oral medications, topical gels and topical creams. Anabolic steroids marketed in the U.S. include stanozolol (Winstrol), nandrolone phenylpropionate (Durabolin) and oxandrolone (Oxandrin).
No one knows for sure how many Americans misuse AAS, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. Among athletes, improper use may reach a peak of roughly 6 percent. The average steroid abuser uses the medications in much higher doses than those recommended for medical treatment. In addition, AAS misusers may fail to periodically halt their steroid intake (a precaution used to limit adverse outcomes associated with the medications). Apart from any cardiovascular impacts, potential damaging outcomes of anabolic steroid misuse include infertility, baldness, the manifestation of secondary sexual characteristics normally found in the opposite gender (for both men and women), liver cancer, hepatitis, volatile mood swings, violent moods and the types of delusional thinking normally found in people with schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses. In addition, steroid abusers can display several indications of addiction, including withdrawal symptoms, devotion of excessive resources to steroid-related activities and continued use of steroids after experiencing seriously negative physical, mental, social or academic consequences.
Impact on Cardiovascular Health
Anabolic steroids can promote the development of cardiovascular disease by significantly increasing blood levels of damaging LDL cholesterol and significantly decreasing blood levels of protective HDL cholesterol. Oral steroids are particularly well-known for their adverse effect on cholesterol in the bloodstream. In addition to risks associated with cholesterol-based plaque, steroid abusers have blood vessel risks associated with the formation of blood clots. Specific cardiovascular ailments linked to improper AAS intake include hypertension, atherosclerosis, strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and heart enlargement.
Steroids and Mortality Risks
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the United Kingdom’s King’s College London and Sweden’s Uppsala University and Karolinska Institute used data from a group of 2,013 Swedish men to help determine if people who abuse/misuse anabolic steroids die at an increased rate or at an unusually early age. One out of every five of these participants had a positive finding for steroids in the bloodstream but did not have a medical reason for using AAS. The researchers compared the number of people who died in the steroid-using group between the years 2002 and 2009 to the number of people who died in the non-steroid-using group. In each group, they specifically focused on those individuals who died from cardiovascular illness.
The researchers concluded that the steroid-misusing men enrolled in the study developed cardiovascular diseases roughly 100 percent more often than their non-steroid-using counterparts. These men also died from cardiovascular-related causes roughly 100 percent more often than the men who did not misuse anabolic steroids. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that anabolic steroid misuse directly increases the odds that a man will develop a cardiovascular condition and die from such a condition.
The study’s authors note that, compared to the average Swedish adult, all of the men in the participant group with cardiovascular disease had heightened chances of dying prematurely, whether or not they inappropriately used AAS. This finding underscores the seriousness of cardiovascular disease, whatever its underlying cause or causes.