Anabolic Steroids May Weaken the Heart
Study Shows Long-Term Use May Have an Impact on Heart Pumping Function
April 27, 2010 -- Long-term use of anabolic steroids appears to weaken the
heart, and it is not clear if this weakening is reversible, researchers
In a small but alarming new study, middle-aged weight lifters who took
steroids for roughly a decade showed evidence of impaired heart pumping
function that was not seen in weight lifters who did not take steroids.
The finding suggests that many years of anabolic steroid use weakens the
heart more than has been previously recognized, says cardiologist and study
researcher Aaron L. Baggish, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts
It may also have important public health implications because the use of
steroids to improve sports performance is no longer the exclusive domain of a
small group of elite athletes.
Steroids use is now common in fighting sports, such as boxing and mixed
martial arts, in addition to weight lifting, Baggish says.
Anabolic steroids are synthetically produced drugs that mimic the naturally
occurring male sex hormone testosterone, which builds muscle.
"Steroid use in the general public wasn't really an issue until the late
1980s or even the mid-1990s," Baggish tells WebMD. "Even now, when we hear
about steroids it's because a professional baseball player or cyclist has taken
them. But the vast majority of steroid use is now happening among casual
athletes who work 9-to-5 jobs."
Impact of Steroids on the Heart
In an effort to better understand the impact of long-term anabolic steroid
use on the heart, Baggish and colleagues performed heart function testing on 12
weight lifters who took steroids and seven who did not take the drugs.
The average age of the study participants was 40, and the steroid users had
taken the drug for an average of nine years. The two groups were similar with
respect to duration of weight lifting, total physical activity level, and
weight, but the steroid users had more muscle mass than nonusers.
Doppler echocardiography ultrasound was used to examine blood flow through
In most of the steroid users, the heart's main pumping chamber, known as the
left ventricle, showed evidence of weakness during contraction.
A healthy left ventricle pumps 55% to 70% of the blood that fills the heart.
This measurement is known as ejection fraction.
Ten of the 12 steroid users had ejection fractions of less than 55%, which
has been linked to an increased risk for heart failure and sudden cardiac
Only one of the seven weightlifters with no history of steroid use had a low
The steroid users also showed evidence of impaired diastolic function, which
is the ability of the left ventricle to relax and fill with blood following
Left ventricle relaxation was reduced by almost half among steroid users
compared to nonusers.