Anabolic steroids can increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular complications when a person misuses them. This includes using them to build muscle for sports.

Anabolic steroids, or anabolic-androgenic steroids (AASs), have an association with enhancing athletic performance. However, these drugs have many potentially harmful effects.

They differ from corticosteroids, which doctors often prescribe for reducing inflammatory conditions such as eczema and asthma. These drugs also affect the cardiovascular system but do not increase muscle mass.

In this article, we delve into whether steroids cause heart attacks, the effects and complications of using steroids, and safer alternatives.

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Yes, misusing anabolic steroids can lead to heart attacks.

AASs, also known simply as steroids, are the most widely misused appearance and performance-enhancing drugs. When a person misuses them, they can affect heart health and may cause early heart attacks.

AASs are artificial versions of the hormone testosterone. They promote muscle growth but disrupt the body’s natural hormone balance.

Doctors sometimes prescribe AASs to treat certain conditions, such as low testosterone or delayed puberty. However, many people illegally use them to increase lean muscle mass. This may be for bodybuilding, increasing performance or endurance, or shortening recovery time between workouts.

AASs can have multiple effects on the cardiovascular system, which may contribute to the risk of heart attacks.

They can contribute to an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and a decrease in the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol in the blood.

High LDL and low HDL levels increase the risk of atherosclerosis, a condition involving a buildup of plaque inside arteries. In turn, this increases blood pressure and can disrupt blood flow.

Steroids also increase the risk of blood clots forming in blood vessels, potentially disrupting blood flow and damaging the heart muscle. If blood cannot reach the heart or brain, it can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Additionally, anabolic steroids may cause structural changes in the heart, decreasing the function of the heart’s ventricles and inducing an irregular heartbeat, which could become life threatening.

Beyond their cardiovascular effects, misusing AASs can also cause several adverse health complications, such as:

People who misuse AASs can also develop a dependence on them. Around 30% of those who misuse them develop substance use disorder. This is when a person continues to use steroids even though they have negative effects on their life.

A person may spend a large amount of time or money on the drugs and find it hard to stop using them due to withdrawal symptoms.

Help is available

Seeking help for addiction may feel daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support.

If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:

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It is essential to differentiate between anabolic steroids, which enhance physical performance, and corticosteroids. The latter are what doctors prescribe to treat inflammatory conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases.

While both types of steroids share some similarities, they have distinct effects on the body and carry different risks.

Corticosteroids primarily affect inflammation and do not help build muscle mass. In fact, they can result in a loss of muscle.

High dose or long-term corticosteroid therapy may contribute to the development of risk factors for heart attacks, such as hypertension and hyperglycemia.

No studies have directly compared the risk of corticosteroids versus anabolic steroids, but corticosteroids involve the supervision of a physician, while anabolic steroids do not. This means a doctor can monitor for signs of cardiovascular conditions.

No appearance or performance-enhancing drug is without risks. As a result, the safest way to build muscle and endurance is through adequate nutrition, exercise, and rest.

A 2019 review of previous research states a handful of legal, evidence-based supplements may help with athletic performance. These include:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant drug that increases alertness and neuromuscular function and may benefit short-term or endurance forms of exercise. However, for some, it also causes difficulty sleeping, anxiety, or nausea.
  • Creatine monohydrate: This is an amino acid, one of the building blocks for protein. It improves the capacity for short-term, high intensity movement.
  • Nitrate: This compound may improve performance in aerobic exercise. Food sources include leafy greens, celery, and beetroot.

Consulting with qualified healthcare professionals and certified trainers can help individuals develop personalized strategies to achieve their fitness goals safely and effectively.

It is important to note that while fitness goals can be a source of motivation, perfectionism around athletic performance or appearance can be harmful.

If a person finds themselves increasingly preoccupied with how they look or work out, they can speak with a mental health professional for support.

It is especially important to do this if dissatisfaction with one’s body is causing a person to take extreme measures. These could include taking drugs, restrictive dieting, compulsive exercise, or prolonged fasting. These behaviors are unnecessary to be fit and well and have links to health conditions, such as eating disorders.

Help is available

Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.

Anyone who suspects they or a loved one may have an eating disorder can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, which offers a daytime helpline staffed by licensed therapists and an online search tool for treatment options.

For general mental health support at any time, people can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 24 hours a day at 1-800-662-4357 (or 1-800-487-4889 for TTY).

Many other resources are also available, including:

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Below are some answers to common questions about steroids.

How common is death from steroids?

While death directly attributable to anabolic steroid misuse is relatively rare, the adverse long-term effects can increase the risk of premature death.

A 2019 study of 545 Danish males concluded that mortality was three times higher amongst those using anabolic steroids than males who did not use them.

What is the average age of death for steroid users?

Despite their widespread misuse in certain sports, there is currently little research on the average age of death for people taking anabolic steroids to enhance performance.

A 2023 study says that reports of high-profile bodybuilders dying before the age of 50 are common. However, this may not reflect the true average, and more research is necessary.

Health experts do not fully understand the link between anabolic steroids and heart attacks. However, research suggests these substances have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health. In time, the misuse of anabolic steroids may cause heart attacks.

Other adverse effects of anabolic steroid misuse can include low sperm counts, severe acne, aggression, and other health issues. Some people who use steroids as performance-enhancing drugs may develop substance use disorder, making it hard to stop taking them.

By adopting evidence-based strategies and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, individuals can optimize their physical performance while safeguarding their long-term health.