Steroids warning: Chronic use 'may fatally damage the heart'
BODYBUILDERS who abuse steroids risk fatally damaging their heart, warns new research.
Long-term anabolic steroid use may reduce the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body, according to the study.
And the research, published in the journal Circulation, also shows that long-term use of steroids damages the heart muscle’s ability to relax and may cause atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.
Anabolic steroids mimic naturally occurring testosterone, a muscle-building hormone that promotes male sexual characteristics.
Researchers say that since illegal use of steroids became widespread in the 1980s, those users are now reaching middle-age and adverse long-term effects are becoming evident.
The study involved 140 male weightlifters: 86 who used anabolic steroids and 54 non-users. Of the users, 58 were on the drug and 28 were off the drug during evaluations.
The off-drug users had last used steroids an average of 15 months prior to the evaluations.
Steroid users showed higher body- and fat-free mass indexes, consistent with known effects of anabolic steroids.
Using two-dimensional ultrasound imaging, researchers found that the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, was “significantly weaker” during contraction in those taking anabolic steroids compared to the non-steroid users.
Long-term anabolic steroid use may reduce the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the bodyA total of 71 per cent of the anabolic steroid users who were on-drug at the time of evaluation had a low pumping capacity (less than 52 per cent), whereas off-drug users had largely normal pumping capacity.
In contrast, the researchers found that only two of the non-users had a low pumping capacity.
Diastolic function, which is when the left ventricle relaxes and fills with blood, was impaired both for on-drug and off-drug anabolic steroid users.
The researchers said this suggests a more permanent heart problem.
Study co-lead author Doctor Aaron Baggish, of Massachusetts General Hospital in the US, said: “Compared to non-users, anabolic steroid users displayed both higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as a higher prevalence of levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in their blood.”
The researchers also used CT scans to examine the potential link between anabolic steroid use and coronary artery disease.
The scans revealed “strong associations” between the lifetime duration of illicit anabolic steroid use and the amount of plaque build-up in the coronary arteries.
Dr Baggish said: “This finding places illicit anabolic steroid use on the list of factors clinicians should consider when caring for men with premature disease of the coronary arteries.”
Co-lead author Professor Harrison Pope, Jr, of Harvard Medical School, said: “It is critical that clinicians become aware of the long-term risks of anabolic steroid use on the heart.
“Most people relate anabolic steroids to cheating among athletes and fail to realise that there is a large population of men who have developed dependence upon these drugs, but who are not readily visible.
“The oldest members of this population are only now reaching middle age. “
He added: “Clinicians need to know that there may be a marked increase in anabolic steroid-related cardiac pathology as this population moves into later middle-age and beyond.”