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The dark and brutal side of performance enhancers

People who abuse steroids can even risk death, says a doctor

Image Credit: Supplied
Dr Carlos Morales
Gulf News

Dubai: The abuse of steroids and the human growth hormone (HGH) can lead to serious health problems and complications that can be irreversible and even cause death, a doctor has warned.

Dr Carlos Morales, orthopaedic surgeon and consultant at Orthosports Medical Centre, said anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) is a treatment reserved in most cases for patients who have a production deficiency.

“AAS are synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of testosterone. Testosterone, like other steroid hormones, has its main effect on tissues activating the synthesis of protein, leading to tissue repair and growth. If we are able to increase protein synthesis, it would lead to quicker regeneration of the body and faster recovery from illness and injuries,” he said.

In the treatment of medical conditions, only one type of steroid is used, and patients are closely monitored and the doses used are approximately that which would be produced naturally by the human body.

“In cases where people resort to steroid use to increase muscle mass, they tend to take very high dosages, sometimes 10-100 times the normal dosage and often more than one type [of steroid] at a time with the purpose of activating production of protein and, thus, increasing their muscle mass,” Dr Morales said.

Both HGH and the AAS are available through injections or are taken orally through tablets and capsules.

“In children, HGH injections are approved for treating short stature of unknown cause as well as poor growth due to a number of medical causes. In adults, it is prescribed for short bowel syndrome, HGH deficiency due to rare pituitary tumours and muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/Aids.”

There are many dangerous long-term and short-term effects that are associated with steroid abuse, said Dr Morales.

He mentioned that apart from steroids causing damage to certain body organs, steroid users face a high risk of getting infectious diseases from non-sterile needles.

“Many steroid users are often frightened to go to a needle exchange to obtain a supply of sterile needles in case they are labelled addicts, often resulting in the use of, or sharing of, non-sterile needles, which can cause blood poisoning with a higher risk of infection and infectious diseases. The user’s injection site can also become swollen and tender and can lead to abscesses which can then lead to the requirement of painful medical intervention.”

Explaining the harmful side-effects of steroid use, he said abuse of the drug can cause heart disease and it becomes evident due to high increases in total cholesterol levels, causing a build-up of cholesterol on the walls of the blood vessels which can also lead to strokes.

“Also, the occurrence of kidney problems occurs mostly with the use of oral steroids with a suppression of blood-clotting factors leading to increased blood-clotting time following cuts or injury,” he said.

The kidneys also have to work harder with oral steroid use due to an increased demand to filter the blood, he added. “Steroid users also normally resort to ultra-high protein intake, sometimes far in excess of normal intake involved with weight training which can lead to the formation of kidney stones.”

Steroid use has also been shown to cause irreversible liver damage and cancers, said Dr Morales.

“Oral steroids are difficult for the liver to metabolise, leading to a decrease in the ability of the liver to clear waste products. Some counterfeit steroids have been known to carry all kinds of bacteria and viruses leading to adverse liver function.”

Dr Morales also pointed to studies that have shown a link between high testosterone levels and aggressive behaviour.

“Often, steroids have been used as an excuse for a person’s aggressive behaviour,” he said. “High-dose users have also been affected with psychotic syndromes and a high level of anxiety. Other effects that appear are sleep disturbances, feelings of euphoria, high levels of paranoia, various stages of depression, with some users suffering extreme mood swings, and also changes in their personality. A large number of users become dependent on steroid use which can lead to addiction.”

 

Teenagers

Use of steroids by teenagers and men in their early twenties who have not yet stopped growing can impair bone growth, leading to a curtailment in height due to premature closure of epiphyseal growth plates (the site of bone growth). Bone pain can also be a side effect of steroid use, said Dr Morales.

“The use of steroids can make a person feel stronger than they actually are, resulting in their trying to lift heavier weights than their body is actually capable of, which can lead to muscle tear. It can also result in high levels of water retention, changing features of the face, making it puffy.”

Females growing facial hair due to steroid use is quite common and steroids have also shown to cause bad breath and changes in the voice, the doctor said.

Among other problems and complications that can occur with abusers of steroids is an impaired immune system, breast development as a result of long-term cycles or high dose of steroid use, and a decrease in the normal function of the testes.

On the other hand, in the incorrect use of High Hrowth Hormones, the side-effects can include nerve, muscle, or joint pain, swelling due to fluid in the body’s tissues (oedema), carpal tunnel syndrome, numbness and tingling of the skin, high cholesterol levels. It can also increase the risk of diabetes and contribute to the growth of cancerous tumours.

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