The Effects of Prolonged Steroid Use on the Human Body

The latest decades have revealed significant growth of steroid abuse patterns. Modern medical statistics allows an acute assessment of the undesirable side effects of steroid use on the human body. When steroids are prescribed with medical intentions, the doctors instruct on the adherence of dosage and rate of application, so that to a certain extent, this process is under control. The steroid practice in sports unfortunately is somewhat different in terms of the fact that the majority of the sportsmen are not aware of the potential harm caused by the prolonged steroid use. They focus exclusively on the muscle growth results, which are presumably provided by steroids. Correspondingly, a vast number of individuals believe that the more steroids their body receives the better physical results they will reach. Nevertheless, making the dangerous mistake of manifesting prolonged steroid use causes severe and at times irreversible health problems such as liver failure, reduction of the natural production of testosterone, increase of the level of cholesterol and blood pressure, change in thyroid function, headaches, epitasis, seizures, gynecomastia, insensitivity to insulin, androgenic side effects, and stunned growth among adolescents.

Understanding the Nature of Steroids

Prolonged steroid abuse, also medically addressed as anabolic-androgenic steroid misuse, is widely known for being an artificial derivative of the testosterone hormone. Testosterone is recognized as a male hormone capable of producing two major effects on the body of androgenic and anabolic nature. The androgenic effect implies thin hair, excessive body hair, prostate enlargement, retention of fluid and aggression. The anabolic effect reveals throughout the increased mass of bones and muscles (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2014). Naturally, the body of both men and women produces testosterone with the difference in its volume. Testosterone imbalance prevents the body from performing its most basic functions and therefore produces a wide range of consequences. The side effects it produces to the human body start with unattractive physical manifestations like acne and the development of breasts among male individuals, and end with dangerous life-threatening heart and liver diseases (Assael, 2013).The majority of the aftereffects of anabolic-androgenic steroid abuse can be reversed over time under the condition of ceasing to intake them. Nevertheless, some of the steroid effects have a permanent irreversible nature due to the prolonged use, for instance, severe problems with the cardiovascular system, nervous system or minor effects such as the change in the female voice (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2014). Case reports and scientific studies have identified the major danger of prolonged steroid use on the human body throughout the prorogation of its side effects. Thus, an individual abusing anabolic steroids may fail to observe any changes in the short-term period, but can potentially face significant health issues in case of long-term intake. The primary reason of the dangerous aftereffects of the steroids is the change in the required dosage (Aronson, 2010). Correspondingly, higher doses stimulate the emergence of various negative health effects. The side effects during the initial stages of prolonged steroid use are associated with acne, fluid retention, and change in testicular size, liver disorders, loss of hair on the head, increased hair growth on the body, sleeping disorders, increased appetite, gynecomastia, deepening of the voice, and even increased aggression (Kanayama, Hudson, & Pope, 2008). As it has been mentioned before, the forenamed clinical manifestations are invertible, as they tend to disappear after ceasing the steroid intake. Nonetheless, throughout time the use of steroids evoke far more severe consequences such as heart diseases and serious mental disorders. In addition, the majority of people exposed to prolonged use of anabolic steroids often acquire physical and mental dependence on the given drug.

Initial Side Effects

The major changes within the human body caused by the prolonged steroid abuse begin with its initial forenamed short-term side effects. These are acne, gynecomastia, shrunken testicles, high cholesterol, liver malfunction, high blood pressure, balding, enlarged prostate, male characteristics in females, and aggression. In addition, steroid abuse decreases the sperm count, which directly affects the reproductive function of the body (Collins, 2002). The aggression aftereffect is common among both males and females and is the manifestation of excessive testosterone levels in the human body. According to the latest studies, 80 percent of the animals exposed to anabolic-androgenic steroids revealed the tendency of showing extremely unusual aggression which was similar to the reaction of those individuals who intake an increased dosage of steroids for extended time periods (Kraemer, Fleck, & Deschenes, 2011). Thus, high testosterone levels resulting from prolonged use of steroids induce the increase in irritability, overall stress resistance and may provoke violent behavior. This occurs due to the suppressed control over the impulses induces by excessive anabolic-androgenic steroid concentration. High blood pressure as a steroid aftereffect is directly related to the drug’s ability to force the human body to retain salt and water in unusual amounts. In addition, steroids stimulate the production of the red blood cells and excessive hematocrit levels, which subsequently evoke high blood pressure (Ezra & Schmidt, 2008). This initial aftereffect consequently leads to such long-term effects as heart and kidney failures, brain disorders and problems with legs caused by the transformation of the arteries and blood vessels. Very often high cholesterol levels encourage the development of the blood pressure issue and greatly contribute to the character of the blood flow within the human body. Prolonged exposure to steroids results into two possible outcomes in terms of the initial high-blood pressure problem: prevention of the blood from reaching the heart and brain, resulting in heart attacks and strokes correspondingly (American Heart Association, 2010). Initial liver malfunction implies the formation of blood-filled cysts and tumors within it, which may initially provoke internal bleeding and liver failure. Males are widely affected within the framework of initial anabolic and androgenic abuse effects, as they may experience gymecomastia, testicular atrophy, and enlarged prostate (Assael, 2013). The forenamed inclinations are the primary visible steroid deviations. They originate from the signal the body gets from the synthetic testosterone intake. The latter signal prevents the testes from generating their share of testosterone. The excessive amount of testosterone forces the male body to convert it into a female hormone estrogen (Aronson, 2010). As a result, abusers suffer from gynecomastia or in other words start having clear-cut breasts that strongly aggravates the physical aesthetic component. In addition, initial side effects of steroids misuse involve the rapid growth of prostate, which may evolve into prostate cancer and therefore affect the whole body system. Analyzing the above, the initial acne affect of prolonged steroid use causes minor discomfort as compared to other short-term anabolic-androgenic steroid effects. All of the mentioned clinical manifestations may be subversive during the puberty period due to the aggregative hormonal misbalance. Therefore, the initial effects of steroid abuse may lead to stunned growth among adolescents. The observation of the forenamed initial changes within the body is to be addressed as the basis of the future severe health problems for the abusing individual. The long-term effect of steroids needs to be analyzed from the perspective of the differentiated assessment of several body systems: the central nervous system, endocrine system, genitourinary system, cardiovascular system, hepatocellular system, and musculoskeletal system.

Effect on the Central Nervous System

The extent of the destructive impact of steroids depends on the age at which they were originally introduced to the body. Correspondingly, the younger the individual who using steroids is, the more damage is experienced by his or her nervous system. The condition of the nervous system strongly depends on the body’s ability to produce serotonin. Anabolic abuse prevents the system from developing a sufficient quantity of serotonin directly affecting the individual perception of his or her well-being. Prolonged exposure to steroids results in the permanent corruption of the basic neurological processes causing high depressive and aggressive manifestations (Ezra & Schmidt, 2008). Thus, the consequences of taking steroids outspread on the mental state and behavior of people. The human brain has receptors to interact with testosterone and therefore it can be referred to as a “target organ” for this hormone and its synthetic analogues. It is important to note that from the late thirties until mid eighties steroids were used as a medication against nervous and mental disorders, including psychosis and depression (Collins, 2002). Therapeutically, doses of anabolic steroids in clinical conditions led to the improvement of the patient’s memory, reduction of fatigue and significant mood elevation. The forenamed clinical studies revealed a significant effect of testosterone on the development and functioning of the human nervous system throughout the increase of the level of hormones in the body system. The latter stimulate changes in brain activity similar to amphetamines and anti-depressants. However, along with this healing effect, the psychological and psychic side effect of steroid misuse was also discovered. Besides the mentioned depression and aggression, anabolic-androgenic steroids damage the hormonal level leading to violent behavior and even hallucinations (Ezra & Schmidt, 2008). The fact that prolonged use of steroids stimulates the development of the brain in a way that it causes psychosis and manic-depressive states makes its intake one of the most dangerous and relatively accessible contemporary drugs. Cyclic steroid intake causes permanent mental status change, leading to the general instability of the human brain activity.

Effect on the Hepatocellular System

The changes in the hepatocellular system are the most evident effects of anabolic steroids resulting in hepatic pain and enlargement of the liver below the costal arch. Intensive physical exercise tends to create pathological changes in the human liver even without steroid exposure. When excessive anabolic intake occurs, the liver does not have sufficient time to neutralize all its by-products and the process of metabolism is consequently corrupted, leading to liver failure. The latter becomes possible due to the negative effects of steroids on the detoxifying (neutralizing) and excretory functions of the liver. The functional shifts of prolonged steroid use are followed by organic changes, resulting in such severe diseases as jaundice, cholestasis, hepatitis and cirrhosis (Kraemer, Fleck, & Deschenes, 2011). Acute liver failure is often observed among athletes exposed to long-term steroid use and is associated with the obstruction of the biliary tract and cholestasis. In addition, some authors have described the cases of malignant morbid growth in the liver after the administration of anabolic steroids. The hepatocellular systems is damaged to the extent of failure by adenomas, hepatocellular carcinomas, angiosarcomas and other serious diseases that most often lead to a lethal outcome (Collins, 2002). It is hard to underestimate the destructive effect of prolonged exposure to excessive steroid dosages on the hepatocellular system, which is the center of all the metabolic processes within the body. Because of the prolonged anabolic misuse, the abusing individual may face the failure of one of the most important organs in the human body, without which biological existence is simply impossible.

Effect on the Endocrine System

Since testosterone and anabolic steroids themselves induce hormonal activity, it is logical to expect them to have a great influence on the human endocrine system in general and its reproductive function in particular. The introduction of high concentrations of anabolic steroids leads to a decrease of the synthesis of natural testosterone, resulting in the decrease of its concentration in blood, testicular atrophy and disruption. As a result, spermatozoids lose their mobility and ability to penetrate the egg so that the overall sperm count decreases. In addition, the malfunction of the endocrine system due to anabolic-androgenic steroid abuse forces the male adolescents to enter the puberty earlier than required causing improper growth. The fact that a part of the testosterone anabolic hormones is transformed into estradiol, the male organism faces general feminization. This is evident throughout gynecomastia – growth of the mammary glands among 65% of adolescents and 40% of adult males. Experts believe that the decline of the fertility indexes, change in sexual desires, and impotence are the most striking clinical manifestations of the so-called anabolic drug syndrome, common among athletes (Ezra & Schmidt, 2008). Thus, the latter has introduced a new disease to the modern civilized society caused by systemic administration of anabolic steroids. In addition, anabolic steroids affect the adrenal cortex, which regulates electrolyte metabolism and water exchange in the body. The latest research on the prologue steroid abuse has revealed that steroids are abused by twenty percent of male high school students, thirty percent of college athletes and eighty percent of the overall amount of bodybuilders (Collins, 2002). The latter statistics shows that the endocrine system of all of the listed athletes is damaged due to continuous use of steroids. With the failure of the reproductive function, the majority of the listed above young males put themselves at risk of not having children in the future, which is already addressed as a national health issue.

Effects on the Cardiovascular System and Musculoskeletal System

As indicated above, the problems with the cardiovascular system start with the high blood pressure among individuals exposed to prolonged steroid abuse. According to the latest research, twenty-five percent of people taking anabolic steroids suffer from heart failures and hypertension (American Heart Association, 2010). In some rare cases, such individuals may experience myocardial damage. Various authors have described several cases of death from “congestive heart failure” because of taking anabolic steroids (Aronson, 2010, p. 637). The presented data reveals the tendency towards the blood-pressure increase, metabolism deviations and the possibility of cardiovascular complications among people taking anabolic steroids for extended periods. It stimulates the development of such heart health risk factors as high cholesterol level, triglycerides, lipoproteins, and increased formation of free radicals. Thus, the effect of anabolic-androgenic steroids on the cardiovascular system of the human body has created a new generation of individuals facing heart issues at a relatively young age. Steroids reinforce the cardiac ischemia, arrhythmia caused by frequent exercising with weights, worsen the body microcirculation, and induce chronic heart failure (Assael, 2013). Therefore, steroid misuse is to be recognized as a widespread cause of heart diseases and a variety of other heart dysfunctions among young people. It should be realized that the human heart, being the central organ of biological existence, cannot be deliberately put under the risk of possible impairments by prolonged steroid abuse. In terms of the musculoskeletal system, the major effect of prolonged anabolic steroid use on this organ is characterized by the increased risk of injuries resulting from the mismatch of growth and strength indexes of the muscles and bundles, to which they are attached. People abusing steroids may suffer from torn bundles up to the most powerful one, the Achilles tendon. Steroids dramatically affect the forenamed system during the period of adolescence causing premature ossification of the long bones, accelerated growth of the epiphysis plate, and alteration of the general process of growth. Combined cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems may cause irreversible damage to the health of a teenager or adolescent by decreasing the “general equality” of his or her life (Collins, 2002, p.137).

Female Steroid Abuse and Other Complications

Besides the general effects of the prolonged steroid exposure analyzed above, it is necessary to examine the peculiarities of the steroid impact on females. Excessive amount of testosterone in female bodies significantly lowers the progesterone and estrogen levels in their bodies, therefore making them less feminine. The chemical misbalance resulting from steroid abuse promotes the development of male characteristics due to large amounts of testosterone, which clearly sends male signals to the brain creating havoc in the entire female hormone system (Aronson, 2010). In terms of physical appearance, steroid misuse is primarily observed through excessive facial and body hair along with the deepening of the voice. Though some effects may be present among both genders, a certain group of effects remains uniquely female. Besides aggressiveness and heightened libido, women suffer from enlarged clitoris, shrinking breasts, problems with the menstrual cycle and balding. An overabundance of male hormones caused by prolonged steroid use change the overall hormone balance within the female body putting them at risk of not only losing their physical aesthetics, but also health. Possible health hazard makes some athletes stop taking anabolic steroids or not to resort to their use. Nonetheless, studies show that there is still a wide range of young female and male athletes who tend to repeat steroid abuse patterns. The struggle with many of the negative side effects should begin in the early stages of their occurrence in order to avoid further complications. Furthermore, it is vital to know that abrupt ceasing of steroid use may also lead to negative effects, due to the sudden drop of testosterone levels in the circulatory system (Collins, 2002). Sharp and sudden change in hormone levels can be accompanied by the following symptoms: nausea, running nose, headache, dizziness, palpitations, high blood pressure, issues with the libido, depression, and a persistently growing need for the immediate exposure to anabolic steroids. Therefore, the process of withdrawal should be gradual and preferably conducted under the supervision of a physician. In addition, prolonged use of anabolic-androgenic steroids leads to deviations in many complex processes occurring in the human body. Exposure to steroids at early age can interrupt these processes, and destroy the system of natural testosterone production.

Conclusion

Anabolic-androgenic steroids do occupy a special niche in the medical field. Steroids were initially presented to assist the patients with hormonal disorders whose levels of testosterone are insufficient or whose body fails to produce testosterone due to various reasons. Besides that, its prolonged intake put the individual at high risk of acquiring severe health problems such as the nervous, hepatocellular, endocrine, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal disorders. Muscular development and improved athletic performance are the only advantages of steroid use, which fail to last long due to the occurring health problems. Thus, the detrimental nature of the side effects of prolonged steroid misuse overweighs any of its possible benefits in terms of physical aesthetics. The information concerning the forenamed dangerous side effects of steroids should be widely spread in order to help millions of people who reportedly abuse steroids in the United States and other countries all over the globe.

References

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Ezra, D., & Schmidt, M. (2008). Asterisk: Home runs, steroids, and the rush to judgment. Chicago, IL: Triumph Books.

Kanayama, G., Hudson, J. I., & Pope, H. G. (2008). Long-term psychiatric and medical consequences of anabolic-androgenic steroid abuse. Drug Alcohol Depend, 98 (1-2), 1-12. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2008.05.004.

Kraemer, W., Fleck, S., & Deschenes, M. (2011). Exercise physiology: Integrating theory and application. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Anabolic steroid abuse. New York, NY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.