What are the Steroids?

Mar 13, 2020

Whenever somebody mentions the word “steroids”, many people imagine a pumped-up guy they know from the local gym or Popeye the sailor.

This is quite expected as anabolic steroids, or the ones used by some athletes, are the ones we are the most familiar with. Whether we wanted to try them in the past or know somebody who use them, everybody has heard of them. However, there are different types of steroids used for different purposes, and not too many people know how they actually work and why they have such a wide application for different use cases.

So if you are thinking about using steroids, we will explain to you what type of steroids you need, in which form and what precautions you should take in order to use them correctly.

What Do Steroids Do?

Steroids are artificial chemicals usually prescribed to people for treating medical conditions. The word steroid is derived from the word corticosteroids, because they are intended to imitate the effects of hormone cortisol, produced regularly by our adrenaline gland (cortex).

Corticosteroids are divided into two categories: glucocorticoids which are anti-inflammatory and enhance the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins; and mineralocorticoids which regulate the levels of salt and water in our body.

For medical purposes, the doctors would most commonly prescribe synthetic corticosteroids intended to imitate the corticosteroids naturally created in our organism. Their main benefit is the fact that they can suppress the reaction of the immune system and reduce the inflammation. The main problem with inflammation is that it results in pain, swelling, redness or high temperature of a certain part of the body. All of this is part of our body’s defense mechanism. The inflammation happens when the body is attacked by an infection or bacteria, and swelling, as the result, is the accumulation of additional fluids the body produces to fight the enemies.

However, the army of soldiers created by your own body to defend the organism can sometimes do more harm than good. Steroids effects have the capability to temporarily restrain your soldiers and control the pace of a healing process. The inflammation can last for a long period of time and be too painful to bear and this is when they kick in. Corticosteroids are able to manage the inflammation and the negative sides of it, which in turn provide relief and better functionality of the body. Thus, while steroids cannot cure the underlying illness, they can temporarily manage the inflammation part.

Some of the widely used synthetic corticosteroids are: bethamethasone, prednisolone, prednisone and methylprednisolone.

What are Steroids Used For?

These anti-inflammation drugs come in different forms and they define how precise steroids effects will be when trying to reach the inflamed area and what amount your body will absorb. Steroids can be administered systemically or locally. The systemic way means that we, for example, swallow the pill or get steroids intravenously and steroids need to find the place which requires treatment on their own. The local administering means that the steroids are applied directly to the inflamed pat of the body.

Steroids can be in the form of tablets and liquids which are taken orally, injection when they are administered through the vein, intramuscularly, or injected into the spinal cord. The milder effects have those in the form of eye drops, ear drops, nasal sprays, skin creams and gels.

These mighty medicaments can treat various diseases and condition. They are particularly useful in regulating rheumatoid arthritis. This condition causes the body to get confused and produce inflammation in different parts of the body even though there is no reason for it. If this condition is not treated on time, it can progress and have dire consequences. Steroids suppress the inflammation caused by the false alarms of the body.

Other conditions which can be treated with steroids are: lupus, gout, multiple sclerosis, asthma, bronchitis, allergies, some autoimmune diseases, pulmonary issues and skin problems.

The benefit of taking a pill or getting steroids though an IV is that they will affect the whole body. This is useful if you need them to reduce the inflammation in several parts of the body. However, if you need steroids to do their magic in one localized part, it is better to inject them directly into the inflamed part. This would also give your doctors a greater control over the amount which your body absorbs and help you avoid side effects common for large doses.

Corticosteroids vs Anabolic Steroids

Now that we understand that corticosteroids are mostly used as steroid medication, we also need to have a look at the ones more popular among athletes and bodybuilders. Anabolic steroids, also called anabolic-androgenic steroid, are chemical substances structurally similar to testosterone. The name originates from two main features of these steroids- androgenic- which is responsible for men’s deeper voice, hair growth, bulkier body and development of genitalia, and anabolic- which enhances body and bone mass. Its second feature is the appealing one to the people who enjoy training and want quick results. This is why the researchers work on creating anabolics which would minimize the androgenic and increase the anabolic feature.

In practice this means that anabolics increase the capability of cells to produce more protein. In combination with going to the gym regularly, they improve strength and muscles increase in size within a very short period of time. People who start taking anabolics gain confidence and have a strong motivation to train hard. When using anabolics you can see the results, which people generally get after years of training, only after a few months. On top of that, they allow athletes to push their body limits and reach the strength and the looks which otherwise might be impossible. Due to the durable effects of anabolic steroids, professional athletes are forbidden from using them even when they don’t participate in the competitions, and they are regularly teste by the anti-doping agencies.

Anabolic steroids can also be prescribed for medical purposes by doctors. They can help the boys who experience the delay in muscle and body development in puberty. This type of steroids is also useful for the adult men who are facing low level of testosterone or loss of muscle mass as the consequence of some other condition or a disease.

How to Stop Using Steroids?

Steroids in general are often misused and taken in greater quantities than required. Overuse of steroids- both corticosteroids and anabolics can lead to various side-effects. Corticosteroids can cause weight-gain, digestive issues, mood swings, skin thinning, stretch marks, bruising easily, hair growth, acne, blood sugar and blood pressure increase, puffiness of the face, muscle weakness and slow healing of the wounds. Steroids used as a skin cream can cause changes of skin color, rash, redness and heat around the area where the cream is applied. Steroids applied as drops to eyes and ears can cause a rash or an unpleasant burning sensation. Corticosteroids abuse for a longer period of time can inflict serious damage to the bones which can result in diseases such as osteoporosis. It can also lead to adrenal insufficiency- when the body is not able to adequately respond to and recover from the stress such as surgery. Steroids can even be blamed for diabetes and cataracts.

Abusing anabolics can lead to similar side-effects such as mood-swings, weight-gain, liver damage, diabetes, high blood-pressure and increased cholesterol levels. It can have an effect on psychological state and sleeping habits. Anabolics can cause depression, insomnia, hallucinations, fatigue, rash decisions and losing sex drive. In men, long-term use can cause baldness, liver damage, shrinking testicles, low sperm count and development of breast tissue. On the other hand, women can experience more intense hair growth, their voice turning deep, disruptions in the menstrual cycles and their breasts getting smaller.

If you decided to stop using any type of steroids, you should do this gradually. The best option is to consult your doctor about the proper dosing in the period. If you stop using the steroids abruptly it can cause an adrenal crisis because the body cannot compensate the amount missing so quickly. Adrenal crisis could lead to dizziness, nausea and vomiting. You can also experience the symptom of withdrawal such as mood swings, sleeplessness, depression, exhaustion and muscle pains. If you stop using anabolics too suddenly, you can also lose your libido. Also, if you used steroids for treating some condition or an illness, you can expect the symptoms to reappear as steroids effects wear off.

Summary

Synthetic steroids are a very useful in many ways. Corticosteroids are able to maintain a healthy balance of water and salt in our organism, control the reactions of our immune system and suppress the inflammation. That’s why they are so crucial in treating many conditions and relieving the pain. Anabolic steroids also found a widespread use in increasing the muscle and bone mass and enhancing trainings, but also in assisting boys who experience delayed puberty or people whose muscle mass diminished due to fighting some serious illness. While the positive effects they have on our body are stunning, the side-effects can also be very serious. This is why it is of paramount importance to follow doctors’ orders and avoid overusing them, especially for a longer period of time.

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