Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Steroids and the heart

The use of anabolic steroids isn't limited to Tour de France cyclists and record-breaking home run hitters. More than one million American men and women have used these drugs to gain muscle and lose body fat. Most steroid users are vaguely aware of possible side effects like acne, but few know these drugs can harm the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber.

A team from Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital ran a series of cardiovascular tests on a dozen male recreational weightlifters who used steroids and seven who didn't. Steroid users performed significantly worse on tests of heart function, including left ventricular ejection fraction, a measure of the heart's pumping efficiency. Ten of the steroid users had ejection fractions under 55%, the generally accepted lower limit of normal (Circulation Heart Failure, published online, April 27, 2010).

The quick fix of steroids isn't worth the short-term and long-term health consequences. This study and previous research suggests that anyone who uses, or has used, steroids should take special care of his or her heart and arteries, and perhaps consider asking for a good cardiac workup.

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