Anabolic steroids might be abused by athletes who want to build muscle, but they also are used medically to treat certain conditions. An anabolic steroid is a substance that has a similar action to that of the male hormone testosterone. These types of drugs help underweight patients gain muscle tissue and might also be beneficial in treating some types of female cancers and other illnesses.
People might lose weight and muscle mass after a long infection or a critical injury or illness. A doctor might prescribe anabolic steroids for the patient so he or she can regenerate, build up muscle and regain weight. Sometimes, for reasons that are not yet understood, a person who is not recovering from an illness has trouble keeping enough weight on to stay in the normal healthy weight range. These patients might also be prescribed anabolic steroids.
The reason that anabolic steroids work to increase body mass is because the steroids boost the body's use of protein to build up muscle. The steroids are similar to testosterone, a masculinizing hormone, so they might also have unwanted effects on the patient, such as the development of more body hair, increased aggression and a voice that becomes deeper. Along with the anabolic steroid regimen itself, people who have wasting conditions or who are recovering from illness also need to eat a high-calorie, high-protein diet to fuel the weight-gaining process.
Anabolic steroids can also play a part in treating some types of breast cancer in women. A woman who has the reproductive system condition of endometriosis, in which the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, might also benefit from anabolic steroid treatment. People who have the bone condition osteoporosis, in which bones are weak and fracture easily, might also be prescribed these steroids. A doctor can also place people who have some types of anemia on anabolic steroid regimens.
A person who has the genetic condition hereditary angioedema can benefit from anabolic steroid treatment. A hereditary angioedema patient's body swells up without treatment. The condition affects many areas of the body, including the face, the limbs and even the windpipe.
Anabolic steroids might also have beneficial effects when other conditions are present. For example, some diseases that prevent the blood from clotting correctly can be improved by these drugs. The steroids have hormonal effects, so they can also be used to increase the stature of people with growth problems, such as Turner syndrome in girls.