Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Fitness & Exercise

Font Size
A
A
A

Why Steroids Are Bad for You

The 411 on Steroids' 911
By
WebMD Health News

March 16, 2005 - If it makes athletes muscular and powerful, can steroids really be all that bad for you?

In your heart of hearts, you know steroid abuse can't be good. And your heart is telling you the truth. Even when used to treat medical conditions, anabolic steroids have all kinds of common side effects.

What, exactly, is so bad about steroids? WebMD is here with the FAQ.

What Are Steroids?

Don't confuse anabolic steroids with corticosteroids, warns physiatrist Kenneth Mautner, MD, of Emory University. Anabolic steroids are used to build up muscle. Corticosteroids are used to dampen overactive immune responses and reduce swelling.

The anabolic steroids abused by athletes are synthetic versions of testosterone, a male hormone. Both men and women naturally produce testosterone. But like all hormones -- which regulate the body's most basic functions -- throwing one's testosterone out of balance can have wide-ranging consequences.

Why Do Doctors Prescribe Steroids?

Doctors prescribe anabolic steroids to treat certain specific medical conditions. For example, they may be used to treat the muscle wasting seen in AIDS. Steroids may also be used to treat delayed puberty or loss of testicular function.

Mautner notes that doctors are not allowed to prescribe steroids to enhance a person's athletic performance.

Are Steroids Illegal?

Yes. Without a doctor's prescription for a medical condition, it's against the law to possess, sell, or distribute anabolic steroids.

Legal prosecution can be a serious side effect of illicit steroid use. Under federal law, first-time simple possession of anabolic steroids carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. For first-offense trafficking in steroids, the maximum penalty is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Second offenses double this penalty. In addition to federal penalties, state laws also prohibit illegal anabolic steroid use.

Anabolic steroids are powerful hormones. They affect the entire body. Some of the side effects are common to all users. Other side effects are specifically related to your sex and age.

Men who take anabolic steroids may:

  • Develop breasts
  • Get painful erections
  • Have their testicles shrink
  • Have decreased sperm count
  • Become infertile
  • Become impotent

Women who take anabolic steroids may:

  • Grow excessive face and body hair
  • Have their voices deepen
  • Experience menstrual irregularities
  • Have an enlarged clitoris
  • Have reduced breast size
  • Have a masculinized female fetus

Both men and women who take anabolic steroids may:

  • Get acne
  • Have an oily scalp and skin
  • Get yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Become bald
  • Have tendon rupture
  • Have heart attacks
  • Have an enlarged heart
  • Develop significant risk of liver disease and liver cancer
  • Have high levels of "bad" cholesterol
  • Have mood swings
  • Fly into rages
  • Suffer delusions

Teens who take anabolic steroids may:

  • Have short height due to arrested bone growth
  • Girls may suffer long-term masculinization

Since steroids are often taken by injections, there is also the risk of getting HIV or hepatitis infection from an unsterile needle or syringe.

"There are a lot of side effects of steroids," Mautner tells WebMD. "They are not good for you. It is like Russian roulette. Five people may take them and have no long-term problem. The sixth may end up dead."

Healthy Living Tools

Ditch Those Inches

Set goals, tally calorie intake, track workouts and more, all via WebMD’s free Food & Fitness Planner.

Get Started

Today on WebMD

Wet feet on shower floor tile
Slideshow
Flat Abs
Slideshow
 
Build a Better Butt Slideshow
Slideshow
woman using ice pack
Quiz
 

man exercising
Article
7 most effective exercises
Interactive
 
Man looking at watch before workout
Slideshow
Overweight man sitting on park bench
Video
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

pilates instructor
Slideshow
jogger running among flowering plants
Video
 
Teen girl jogging
Article
Taylor Lautner
Article