Androgenic Anabolic Steroid Abuse and the Cardiovascular System

  • Paul VanbergEmail author
  • Dan Atar
Part of the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology book series (HEP, volume 195)


Abuse of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) has been linked to a variety of different cardiovascular side effects. In case reports, acute myocardial infarction is the most common event presented, but other adverse cardiovascular effects such as left ventricular hypertrophy, reduced left ventricular function, arterial thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and several cases of sudden cardiac death have also been reported. However, to date there are no prospective, randomized, interventional studies on the long-term cardiovascular effects of abuse of AAS. In this review we have studied the relevant literature regarding several risk factors for cardiovascular disease where the effects of AAS have been scrutinized:

(1) Echocardiographic studies show that supraphysiologic doses of AAS lead to both morphologic and functional changes of the heart. These include a tendency to produce myocardial hypertrophy (Fig. 3), a possible increase of heart chamber diameters, unequivocal alterations of diastolic function and ventricular relaxation, and most likely a subclinically compromised left ventricular contractile function. (2) AAS induce a mild, but transient increase of blood pressure. However, the clinical significance of this effect remains modest. (3) Furthermore, AAS confer an enhanced pro-thrombotic state, most prominently through an activation of platelet aggregability. The concomitant effects on the humoral coagulation cascade are more complex and include activation of both pro-coagulatory and fibrinolytic pathways. (4) Users of AAS often demonstrate unfavorable measurements of vascular reactivity involving endothelial-dependent or endothelial-independent vasodilatation. A degree of reversibility seems to be consistent, though. (5) There is a comprehensive body of evidence documenting that AAS induce various alterations of lipid metabolism. The most prominent changes are concomitant elevations of LDL and decreases of HDL, effects that increase the risk of coronary artery disease. And finally, (6) the use of AAS appears to confer an increased risk of life-threatening arrhythmia leading to sudden death, although the underlying mechanisms are still far from being elucidated. Taken together, various lines of evidence involving a variety of pathophysiologic mechanisms suggest an increased risk for cardiovascular disease in users of anabolic androgenic steroids.


Anabolic androgenic steroids Cardiovascular side-effects Left ventricle hypertrophy Hypertension Relaxation abnormalities Vascular reactivity Coronary calcification Blood platelet function Lipid alterations Myocardial infarction Arrhythmia Sudden death 



The editorial assistance of Signe T. Nøsterud is highly appreciated. We are indebted to Ms Birgit Skjervik for excellent assistance with graphics and artwork, and we warmly thank Professor Egil Haug for critical review of the manuscript.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chief Physician/Senior CardiologistOslo University Hospital – AkerOsloNorway

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