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What are anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances similar to the male hormone testosterone. Doctors prescribe them to treat problems such as delayed puberty and other medical problems that cause the body to make very low amounts of testosterone. Steroids make muscles bigger and bones stronger. They also may cause puberty to start and can help some boys who have a genetic disorder to grow more normally.

Anabolic steroids may be taken as a pill, as a shot into a muscle, or as a gel or cream rubbed on the skin.

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Common anabolic steroid medicines include fluoxymesterone (such as Halotestin) and nandrolone (such as Durabolin). In the United States, you need a prescription to get any anabolic steroid. Illegal anabolic steroids are those that people get without a doctor's prescription.

Some people take legal dietary supplements that have certain steroid hormones also made by the human body. One such supplement is dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). The body can turn DHEA into other steroid hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol. People use it to try to make their muscles bigger. Whether such products actually work has not been proved. But if you take them in large amounts, they can cause the same side effects as anabolic steroids.

Why do some people use anabolic steroids without a prescription?

Some adults and teens use illegal anabolic steroids to lower body fat, get bigger muscles, and increase strength. They use the drugs because they are seeking to improve how well they play sports or how they look.

The dose of illegal anabolic steroids is 10 to 100 times higher than the dose a doctor prescribes for medical problems. People often use more than one of these illegal drugs at the same time. This is called stacking. Or they may take the drugs in a cycle from no drug to a high dose over a period of weeks to months. This is called pyramiding.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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