No matter what type of steroid medication one may be using, the side effects of its use can be very dangerous. Therefore, seeing as the two types, corticosteroids and anabolic androgenic steroids are increasingly common in treatments, it’s useful to know the full list of negative effects of steroids.
So, the following review will detail the main types and uses of steroid treatments. After this brief introduction, we will move on to the top steroid injection side effects. There will be presented the adverse properties of corticosteroids and of anabolic-androgenic steroids.
Using steroids, either for body enhancement or medical treatment purposes can have lasting consequences. If you or someone you know are under this kind of treatment, make sure to let a professional health expert know about it.
Self-administered dietary supplements can give the impression that they work while building up some serious health issues beneath the surface. Don’t fall victim to this by visiting your doctor in due time.
Steroids are a wide range of organic compounds that have a specific configuration of four rings. Subject to incredibly broad and contradictory misconceptions, steroid understanding is a plethora of knowledge. We’re going to underline the gist of it here.
In the typical steroid definition, steroids are compounds produced by our bodies. Popular knowledge has understood that testosterone is one of the most important ones. Yet did you know cholesterol is also a steroid?
Steroids have a very complex structure, employing 17 atoms of carbon only in the core structure. They classify depending on the different functional groups contained in these structures. Lastly, steroids don’t just come from humans. Animals, plants, fungi – all contain hundreds of types of steroids each.
To answer the question on everyone’s minds, bodybuilding steroids are a very specific kind. The steroids that are used for medical purposes split into two groups – corticosteroids and anabolic androgenic steroids (or AAS). The former has a great array of uses in medicine, many scientifically revolutionary.
AAS also have many benefits in modern medicine, but not only. Here is where we will find testosterone and estradiol (one of the many steroidal forms of estrogen), and all others used for body enhancement.
Anabolic androgenic steroids are androgens in steroidal form. First discovered in the 1930s, they now have a wide use in medicine and body enhancement. As anabolic cells in nature, AAS increase cell protein and strengthen skeletal muscles.
Even though AAS have several medical uses, the main one for which they are marketed is body enhancement. Because of these enhancement properties, there are many cases of people overusing anabolic steroids. The side effects of anabolic steroid overuse are not at all pleasant, yet similar to those of illegal drug overdoses.
This has marked an interesting development in the psychology of addiction. Namely, AAS addicts do not use it for relief or for the high (since it does not offer any), but for cosmetic and performance enhancements.
Apart from the ergogenic use of anabolic androgenic steroids, physicians and scientists have proven them useful for the following treatments:
- Stimulating bone marrow. Although now replaced by synthetic protein hormones, AAS were used for the treatment of hypoplastic anemia types that occurred in patients suffering from leukemia or kidney failure. AAS proved particularly effective in treating aplastic anemia.
- Stimulating appetite, increasing and keeping muscle mass. Steroid supplements have shown incredible results in aiding people suffering from cachexia spectrum disorders (cancer, AIDS, MS, TB, etc.)
- Stimulating growth. Kids with growth deficiencies and failures have been prescribed steroid supplements by their pediatricians. Still, endocrinologists prefer the use of synthesized growth hormones. These haven’t nearly as many side-effects.
- Contraception for males. Research has shown that steroids can potentially be used as male contraception in the near future. So, promising results say that testosterone enanthate could be a reversible and reliable solution for long-term use.
- Replacing hormones. Men with lowered testosterone have been using AAS as replacements. Furthermore, research has also shown this procedure effective in elderly men with lowered libidos.
- Gender dysphoria. AAS have proven very effective treatments for trans men patients, non-binary transgender people, intersex, and other.
- Inducing puberty. Children showing extreme delay of puberty have been prescribed steroids by their physicians as well.
One alarming case is the number of kids (mainly heterosexual males) that use steroids for non-medical purposes. Consequently, as shown in the graph below, the number of 8th graders who admitted to using AAS for four years or more is incredibly high (0.5% of all US children).
Corticosteroids are steroidal hormones that vertebrates produce in their adrenal cortex. Unlike AAS, corticosteroids can be synthesized. Corticosteroid examples include cortisol, cortisone, aldosterone, and corticosterone. Two of these, aldosterone and cortisol, are the most common types of corticosteroids. Apart from pills and injections, inhaled corticosteroids are also available on the market.
Because of their large number, corticosteroids have been divided into two classes:
- Glucocorticoids. Shown to have anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, anti-proliferative, and vasoconstrictive properties.
- Mineralocorticoids. These corticosteroids regulate electrolyte balance and water balance within the organism.
Some of the most important medical practices that use corticosteroids are:
- Respiratory disorders;
- Dermatology treatments;
- Adrenal insufficiency;
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia;
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Organ transplants;
- Prostate cancer;
- Cerebral edema;
- Chronic hepatitis;
As one can clearly observe, corticosteroids differ fundamentally from anabolic androgenic steroids. They can be synthesized. They can be used in a wide array of medical procedures. They cannot suffer ergogenic use and, thus, do not usually cause addictions.
Corticosteroids furthermore are not as likely to produce major adverse effects, as we will see in the second half of this review on steroid side effects.
Even though the two categories of steroids are so widely different, there are several common side effects between them. Steroids side effects consequently split into anabolic steroids side effects and the side effects of corticosteroids.
Common side effects between the two types of steroids include:
- Neuropsychiatric disorders. Research has shown that abusing AAS leads to mania, violence, aggression, and psychosis. The latter is also an adverse effect of corticosteroid use, along with other mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
- Cardiovascular disorders. While corticosteroids may cause hypertension and fluid retention, AAS have more dire consequences. Anabolic steroid side effects on the cardiovascular system include alterations of the heart structure like an enlarged left ventricle. These two steroid side effects may lead to other problems, including several types of heart failure.
The anabolic androgenic steroid side effects are many. They range from psychological ones to physical ones. The psychological can be brought upon by the significant physiological changes that occur during AAS treatment, or from the hormonal imbalance that can be seen in the initial stages.
The physical side effects show up because steroids meddle with the immune system. The physical anabolic side effects are relative to the dose intake.
Psychological side effects of anabolic androgenic steroid abuse include:
- Mania, violence, aggression, and psychosis (as mentioned above). Long term users of AAS tend to develop an addiction to them. When that happens, these side effects tend to combine, rendering the person unable to function socially.
- Severe personality changes. Studies have unearthed that AAS users tend to show several personality spectrum disorders, including: BPD, antisocial behavior, paranoid disorder, schizophrenia, schizoid personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, passive-aggressiveness, and narcissistic disorder.
- Mood swings. Reckless thoughts, elation, irritable moods, and feelings of invincibility are also common with people that undergo AAS treatment.
- Anxiety. This might be one of the earliest and most common steroid side effects.
- Hypomania. A state of hyperactivity, generally one step further than the usual mood swings.
Physical side effects of anabolic androgenic steroid abuse include:
- Cancer. Per the human carcinogens list by the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization, anabolic androgenic steroids are possible to cause cancer.
- Feminization. Males taking steroids could develop gynecomastia, reduced sexual function, as well as infertility in extreme cases. Because AAS suppress natural testosterone levels, testicular atrophy may also appear.
- Masculinization. Females that take AAS can see side effects including increased bodily hair, a deeper voice, shorter menstrual cycles, and an enlarged clitoris. Severe cases see a decrease in fertility or the development of ovarian cysts. Anabolic steroid side effects could also mark the appearance of male features on a female fetus, or vice versa (if treatment occurs during pregnancy).
- Growth defects. Steroids have been used to treat children with growth problems. However, it’s been shown that instead of increasing height, they generally speed up maturation. As a result, one side effect is reduced adult height.
- Kidney issues. There’s a 90% chance that people undergoing steroid treatment develop focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. This type of kidney scarring may be severe in people employing ergogenic use of steroids.
- Liver problems. The liver struggles to cope with steroid treatments. As a result, many patients tend to develop peliosis hepatis. Although asymptomatic, this condition can lead to liver failure in extreme cases.
The chart below showcases a study done on mice. Anabolic steroid side effects on mood and psychological state seem to manifest more intensely on females during the second week of treatment.
Corticosteroids are generally safer than anabolic steroids. However, they too can produce some very dangerous adverse effects. Generally, they depend on the dosage. And, if the daily intake of corticosteroids is high and the treatment period is long, the symptoms tend to become apparent and worsen.
The most common, non-severe of the side effects of corticosteroids is a low response. The effectiveness of steroids wildly depends on stress levels and the strength of the immune system.
Psychological side effects of high doses of corticosteroids include:
- Mood swings. Because of their neuropsychiatric effects, corticosteroids can bring about sudden changes in mood. Periods of intense, artificial joy can alternate with moments of prolonged sadness.
- Anxiety and depression. In more severe cases, mood swings can evolve into clinical anxiety and/or depression spectrum disorders.
- Insomnia. Insomnia can have both psychological and physical causes. So, in the case of corticosteroid side effects, these tend to combine to produce prolonged periods of sleeplessness.
Physical side effects of increased corticosteroid use for longer periods include:
- Different response to physical trauma. The usual symptoms of physical trauma may suffer change. Corticosteroids alter your immune system and cause your adrenal glands to behave abnormally. So, trauma, illness, or surgical scarring may take longer to heal.
- Higher risk of infection. If the treatment with corticosteroids continues for longer than normal, the risk of infection could become dangerous. This is because one’s immunity drops below safety levels.
- Gastrointestinal problems. Prolonged exposure of the gastrointestinal system to corticosteroids may lead to ulcers and/or bleeding. Taking corticosteroids alongside painkillers could enable the onset of such steroid side effects.
- Osteoporosis. Taking corticosteroids may weaken bones to the point of the development of osteoporosis. Because of this, it’s very important patients take bone density surveys for the duration of the treatment.
- Gaining weight. Besides increasing one’s appetite, taking corticosteroids could greatly damage the body’s power to process fat.
- High BP. Corticosteroids create unbalance in the water and sodium levels of the body. Consequently, fluid retention may appear, which in turn leads to elevated blood pressure levels.
- Cataracts/glaucoma. However rarely, corticosteroids have been linked to the development of eyesight problems like glaucoma or cataracts.
- Aseptic necrosis. In severe, rare cases of prolonged exposure to corticosteroids, aseptic necrosis may set in. This is a severe disorder that causes the death of one or more bone segments in the patient’s body. The most common is the hip joint.
Steroid side effects are many and some particularly dangerous. If you or someone you know are under steroid treatments, take extra care and visit your health care provider frequently.
Always be on the lookout for steroid side effects. Even the slightest misjudgment could lead to potentially fatal consequences. Steroids should not be self-prescribed, but if you want to use them for bodybuilding purposes, make sure to notify your physician beforehand.
Images from depositphotos.com.