When steroids are mentioned, they're brought up as the reason a particular athlete can run so fast.
Side Effects of Steroids
Our body’s immune system is our defense mechanism against bacteria and infections. It is composed of soldiers who defend our organism from being invaded, or help us beat the enemy once it has already crossed the borders. We are so used to having a proper immune response that we take it for granted and don’t think about how our lives would look like if we didn’t have this mechanism or if the mechanism didn’t work properly. However, there are still situations when the response of our immune system is not adequate or even harmful, and this is where steroids, or more precisely corticosteroids can help immensely.
The other type of steroids with more visible effects are anabolic steroids or anabolics. Anabolics and corticosteroids are both synthetic men-made types of steroids, but with completely different effects. Anabolics are the ones used by athletes in order to achieve better results when it comes to looks and strength.
Why People Use Steroids?
Even though corticosteroids can be used to regulate the balance of water and salt in the organism, they are most commonly used as anti-inflammation medicine. Sometimes the response of our immune system is too painful or uncomfortable for us to bear. It can result in swelling, overheating and pain. Synthetic steroids have the power to reduce inflammation and relieve us of pain. Corticosteroids became even more popular when their effects were tested on the patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. This is one of the examples where steroids can restrain the false reaction from our immune system. People with this condition experience inflammation in the parts of body which are not attacked. The immune system sends its army by mistake, which results in a lot of discomfort. While corticosteroids cannot cure it, they can successfully manage the condition by restraining inflammations.
Opposite to the popular belief, anabolics can also be prescribed by doctors, but less frequently. They found its use in the cases of delayed puberty of male teenagers as they are structurally similar to testosterone and enhance the body’s ability to produce more protein. Additionally, they can assist in increasing the body mass, which is important for the people who lost it due to some serious illness such as HIV or cancer. This is a very important feature from the medical aspect, but it can also help the patients overcome the psychological issues which appear as a result of muscle loss. Additionally, many athletes opt to start using the steroids either in order to see the results more quickly, or to emphasize their body shape. In combination with regular trainings, steroids can increase their muscle mass and strength, but they can also contribute the general feeling of confidence and enhance their training routine.
Side Effects of Steroids
If corticosteroids and anabolics are used for a long time or in great quantity, it can lead to mild and severe side effects. Many people start overusing the steroids either because they can relieve their pain or because they want even greater results in the gym.
The habit of taking too much steroids can lead to steroids side effects which have an impact on your looks and on the health of your organism. Overusing corticosteroids can cause anything from rash, moon face and skin thinning, to more serious conditions like digestive issues, bone damage and adrenaline insufficiency.
Anabolics don’t lag behind corticosteroids when it comes to side effects. They can cause mental problems like mood-swings, aggression, anxiety, insomnia, hallucinations, lead to abrupt decisions and drop of libido. They can also cause a serious disarray in our organism. Steroids side effects can be liver damage, testicles shrinking, developing breast tissue, weight-gain and baldness. In women they cause muscular features to appear, like deep voice and small breast, and they can also affect menstrual cycle.
Clinical Case Study
In the study made by Divya Satyanarayanasetty et al: Multiple Adverse Effects of Systemic Corticosteroids: A Case Report, the researchers presented some of the side effects of oral corticosteroids, which are most commonly sold in the form of steroids pills or tablets. The patient was a 55-year-old woman which came to the hospital for the prescription for the acute form of bronchial asthma. The patient experienced severe shortness of breath and productive cough. She’s been suffering from asthma for 25 years, and 8 years before coming to the hospital, she was prescribed corticosteroids- betamethasone, 10 mg, once a day, which she should’ve taken for only 10 days. As this medication helped significantly with her asthma attacks, she continued with self-medication for another 8 years, even without the medical prescription.
At the time when the woman came to the hospital, apart from asthma, she also had glucocorticoid induced bilateral cataract, osteoporosis, diabetes and hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA) suppression. It was established that all of these were either a direct result of her self-medication with steroids, or they were the consequence of steroids exacerbating the pre-conditions this woman had for these diseases.
There is much research pointing to the connection between overusing corticosteroids and conditions such as bone damage and fragility, appearance of cataracts, adrenal insufficiency, diabetes, and even activating latent infections.
This research also underlined the fact that many other studies discovered that HPA suppression can be caused by prolonged use of corticosteroids, especially steroids pills and sprays. This causes adrenal insufficiency and atrophy of adrenals. The condition can be very serious as the body get used to artificial steroids, and the pituitary and hypothalamus stop informing the adrenals to produce cortisol which is naturally produced in our bodies. HPA suppression has symptoms such as fever, chills, digestive issues, diarrhea, vomiting and weakness. In some cases, it leads to dizziness, mood-swings, anxiety and vitiligo. Most importantly, this condition prevents our immune system from having a natural response to stress such as surgery or wound.
The study emphasized that the incidence of cataracts as the consequence of prolonged use of corticosteroids is estimated to be 22%. It is not fully clear why cataracts appear as a result of steroid use, but the phenomenon has, so far, been related to osmotic imbalance, oxidative damage and disrupted lens growth.
Osteoporosis is common for elderly people. However, the studies show that one of the steroids side effects is worsening and speeding-up the progression of this disease. Processes leading to progression caused by steroids are inhibition absorption of the calcium from the digestive system, the renal tubular calcium reabsorption and the replication of osteoblasts in the bones.
The research indicates that steroids can significantly affect our metabolic system, which can lead to the development of diabetes. Older people taking steroids for a longer period of time are particularly prone to having diabetes mellitus, either because steroids are causing it directly, or because they are worsening the pre-existing risk factors.
Oral corticosteroids are often prescribed to the patients suffering from asthma in order to suppress the inflammation. However, they should be used only within a limited period of time. If the woman used the steroids for 8 days, as the doctor prescribed, the side effects would most likely be mild or non-existent. The study also suggests that the fact that corticosteroids are so widespread, accessible to everyone, not expensive and easy to administrate, made self-medication and overusing steroids this easy.
Steroids are very powerful chemicals and medications. However, in order to experience their good effects and avoid the bad ones, it is crucial that the patients stick to the prescribed dosage instead of taking them whenever they deem it necessary. This study shows that just because steroids are accessible doesn’t mean that they are to be taken in unlimited quantities and for years. They can cause a wide variety of side effects, and only some of them are present in this research. Steroids can make our lives better as long as we follow the doctor’s orders and learn how to use them properly.