Anabolic steroids are often stigmatized for their side effects, which can often be quite harsh. What most people don’t know is that they are easily mitigated with the proper supplements, dosages, and cycle lengths. Here, you can learn more about the most common steroid side effects, why they occur, and what you can do to prevent them – or at least lessen their severity.
Androgenic Side Effects
The term “androgen” simply refers to male hormones such as testosterone and androsterone, which are the hormones responsible for the development of male characteristics and sex organs. During puberty, when the body is producing a vast amount of these hormones, certain side effects occur. Many of those same androgenic side effects occur with steroid use, too.
- Oily Skin and Hair – Anabolic steroids cause the sebaceous glands in the skin to secrete far more oil than normal. While there’s not much you can do to prevent it, particularly if you are prone to oily skin or scalp at the genetic level, you can control it by using clarifying shampoos and body washes containing acne-clearing products like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
- Hair Loss – Some studies have shown that male pattern baldness is also one of the more common steroid side effects, but it’s conditional. If you’re prone to this condition genetically, there is a good chance that using anabolic steroids – particularly those with a high androgenic rating – will speed it up. However, if you are not genetically predisposed to hair loss, your risk is minimal.
- Inhibited Sperm Production – Some studies have shown that steroids can inhibit spermatogenesis, which can lower sperm count and/or reduce the number of healthy sperm men produce. This is often temporary.
- Virilization in Women – Because women have far fewer androgens in their bodies by nature, overloading their bodies with androgenic steroids can cause serious problems. Some of these include things like deepening of the voice, body hair growth, clitoral enlargement, and the development of other male characteristics.
Some of these side effects can be mitigated with controlled use of steroids, particularly in the case of virilization. However, men may experience oily skin and hair, hair loss, and inhibited sperm production with only very small doses. This is why it is important to take the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time possible to avoid the worst of the steroid side effects.
Estrogenic Side Effects
The vast majority of anabolic steroids convert to estrogen in the male body via a process known as aromatization. Although men should have some estrogen in their bloodstreams in order to be considered healthy, too much can cause serious problems that may become irreversible over time. The following side effects are all the result of increased estrogen levels.
- Bloating – Bloating is caused by water retention, which is almost always the result of estrogen conversion via aromatization. However, it is temporary and will disappear when you stop using steroids.
- Gynecomastia – Women develop breast tissue due to the amount of estrogen in their bodies. Estrogen is known as the female hormone, and it’s responsible for preparing a woman’s body for childbirth and motherhood. However, estrogen can have the very same effect on men. Over time, men using steroids that convert to estrogen in the bloodstream may begin to develop breast tissue, and this condition is known as gynecomastia. If not immediately mitigated or prevented, it can become permanent and require surgery to alleviate.
Fortunately, you can decrease your risk of developing either of these side effects quite easily through the use of aromatase inhibitors, or AIs, during your steroid cycle. The two most popular options on the market today are Aromasin and Arimidex. These essentially inhibit the conversion of anabolic steroids into estrogen, stopping these steroid side effects in their tracks.
Steroid Side Effects Related to Decreased Testosterone
Anabolic steroids are almost all derivatives of testosterone although there are a couple of exceptions. Because of this, when you start using steroids, your body will slowly stop producing testosterone on its own. Simply put, steroids are not testosterone, but your body thinks they are because they act on the very same receptors in your bloodstream. This can cause some side effects of its own.
- Loss of Libido and/or Erectile Dysfunction – Testosterone is perhaps the most important facet of your sex life. It’s responsible for giving you your sex drive, or libido, and it’s also responsible for making sure your body is up to the challenge when the time comes. Without enough testosterone in your body, your sex drive can plummet, and your body may not cooperate even when you are in the mood.
- Testicular Atrophy – Testosterone is also responsible for the production of semen, which is stored inside your testicles. Without enough testosterone in your bloodstream, your body will no longer produce enough semen, and your testicles will be rendered virtually useless. They will physically shrink over time, which can also become permanent if not prevented or immediately treated.
Like the estrogenic steroid side effects, the ones caused by decreased testosterone are also easy to mitigate. Simply add a form of testosterone – undecanoate, propionate, cypionate, or enanthate – to your stack, and follow up with post cycle therapy consisting of SERMs, or Selective Estrogen Reuptake Inhibitors, like Clomid or Nolvadex.
The addition of testosterone prevents the side effects from occurring while you’re taking the steroid, and the SERMs gently coax your body back into its normal rate of testosterone production once your cycle has ended.
A Special Note for Oral Steroids
Oral steroids carry much the same risk for common steroid side effects as their injectable counterparts. However, oral steroids present a secondary set of risks in that they are filtered through your liver, which can damage it over time. This is known as hepatotoxicity, and it can range from very mild to quite severe, even to the point of causing cirrhosis.
Should you choose to take your steroids orally, make sure that you never take more than the recommended dose, and keep your cycle lengths as short as possible. What’s more, do not stack two oral steroids together as this essentially doubles your risk. Some studies suggest that products like milk thistle may also help to reduce the amount of damage to your liver.
Steroid Injection Side Effects
Sometimes, anabolic steroids side effects aren’t estrogenic, anabolic, or androgenic in nature. In some cases, it’s all about the injections themselves and the discomforts that can be associated with it.
Some of the most commonly reported steroid side effects related to injections include redness, itching, and swelling at the injection site, muscle pain at the area where the steroid was injected, infections, and “burning” sensations during injection.
If you do not properly educate yourself on how to give injections, you could experience side effects associated with hitting arteries, bones, and tendons with the needle.
The best way to avoid steroid injection side effects involves carefully researching how to use them and contacting a pharmacist for advice about administering intramuscular injections in certain parts of your body. Needle gauge and thickness play important roles in your safety, so you should always get your information from a professional rather than an online forum.
Side Effects of Steroids for Women
Of course, women may also experience steroid side effects, and this is especially true of steroids that are incredibly anabolic and closely related to testosterone. That’s because the female body is incredibly sensitive to these hormones, and even a very tiny amount can wreak havoc. The most important side effect to watch for is virilization, or the development of male characteristics.
Aside from this, women may also experience the same side effects as men, which include everything from hair loss to mood swings and significant changes in their sex drive. A few of the steroids that are considered safe for women when used responsibly include Winstrol, Primobolan, and Anavar.
What to Do if You Experience the Side Effects of Steroids
The actions you’ll take when you experience steroid side effects will vary based on their severity and type. The chart below shows some of the most common side effects and what you should do if you experience them. This is not medical advice and should not replace any advice given to you by a physician, but it is simply a set of guidelines you can follow in order if these side effects appear.
|Side Effect||Action 2||Action 2|
*Gynecomastia may be reversible in its early stages, but only if you stop taking steroids immediately and start an aggressive course of Letrozole.
Sometimes, steroid side effects will go away on their own over time. In other cases, you may need to lower your dose of steroids, stop taking them altogether, or even seek emergency medical treatment.
- Keep taking steroids if your side effects include things like oily skin, mild gastrointestinal issues, slight mood changes, or slight changes to your libido. These will often get better over time as your body adjusts to the steroids.
- Lower your dose if any of the aforementioned side effects last longer than seven to 10 days or become particularly bothersome.
- Stop taking steroids if the aforementioned side effects become severe, or if you start to experience symptoms of gynecomastia or virilization.
- Call your doctor if you experience any difficulty breathing, unusual pain, signs of infection at the injection site, gynecomastia that doesn’t resolve with Letrozole, or virilization.
- Seek emergency medical treatment if you have a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This is very rare.
Steroid side effects range from extremely mild and short-lived to quite serious in nature. However, the good news is that you can mitigate most of them with responsible use, careful stack planning, and paying attention to your body’s cues. Despite the social stigma that steroids are dangerous, they’re actually quite safe when used according to recommendations.