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What effects do anabolic steroids have on the heart?

Anabolic steroids cause enlargement of the heart in humans and test animals.(1,2) These are the same changes in heart muscle that occur in chronic heart failure.(3) For these reasons, when a young athlete experiences sudden death the body is often evaluated for steroid abuse.(3) In one case report, a 21-year-old steroid abuser collapsed and died during a workout.(4) The autopsy revealed an enlarged heart with areas of dead heart-muscle tissue. Medical authorities speculated that steroid abuse caused his heart muscle cells to grow faster than the blood vessel supply. This created an area of heart tissue with poor blood flow, leading to death of the new cells and a fatal heart attack.(4)


1. Creagh TM, Rubin A, Evans DJ. Hepatic tumours induced by anabolic steroids in an athlete. J Clin Pathol 1988;41:441-3.

2. Yesalis CE, Wright JE, Bahrke MS. Epidemiological and policy issues in the measurement of the long term health effects of anabolic-androgenic steroids. Sports Medicine 1989 Sep;8(3):129-38.

3. Ferenchick GS. Association of steroid abuse with cardiomyopathy in athletes. American Journal Of Medicine 1991 Nov;91(5):562.

4. Luke JL, Farb A, Virmani R, Sample RHB. Sudden cardiac death during exercise in a weight lifter using anabolic androgenic steroids - pathological and toxicological findings. Journal Of Forensic Sciences 1990 Nov;35(6):1441-7.

by Trent Tschirgi, R. Ph. (c) 1992 University of Maryland Office of Substance Abuse Studies. All Rights Reserved.

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