Question: My doctor prescribed pills for an allergic reaction. Afterwards, I found out they were steroids. With all the news about athletes taking steroids and the harm they can cause, should I be worried? I only took them for seven days.
Answer: Your pills appear to be corticosteroids, probably prednisone or prednisolone. Corticosteroids are used for their anti-inflammatory effects and are different from the steroids used to enhance athletic performance, so don't be worried.
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The latter are called anabolic steroids. They build muscle and strength and appear to be widely abused by both elite athletes and teenage wannabes who use them in pill or injectable form.
Recent congressional hearings focusing on anabolic steroid use in major league baseball grabbed media headlines, so let's look more closely at these drugs.
Anabolic steroids are related to testosterone, the principal male sex hormone produced by the body. They're used therapeutically to treat protein-wasting diseases and other debilitating conditions.
German scientists synthesized anabolic steroids in the 1930s to treat testosterone deficiency. In the 1940s, Nazis soldiers, including Hitler himself, were said to have taken steroids to build strength and aggressive behavior. The paranoia and other symptoms attributed to Hitler during his end times resemble side effects produced by steroid use.
Ironically, anabolic steroids were helpful in rebuilding body weight in survivors of German concentration camps.
To competitive athletes seeking an edge, steroids can be a tempting mistress. But like the Sirens' song that lured Ulysses, this path can lead to ultimate destruction. It's a path littered with the shattered dreams of world-class athletes caught using steroids or other banned substances.
I remember watching the 1988 Olympic Games on TV when Ben Johnson of Canada sprinted past Carl Lewis of the United States to win the 100-meter dash in world-record time. With his massive legs pumping like pistons, Johnson looked more like a weight lifter than a sprinter. Later, he would be found guilty of steroid use and stripped of his gold medal in disgrace.
Fast-forward to 2003. Athletes testifying before a San Francisco grand jury on steroid use included Olympic track champion Marion Jones. Last December, the pride of U.S. women athletes was unceremoniously stripped of the gold and bronze medals she won at the Sydney games. She finally had admitted to using a ”designer“ steroid thought to be undetectable by drug tests. A portent of things to come: That same 2003 grand jury hearing also included Barry Bonds and two other major league baseball players. More recently, widening tentacles are snipping at the heels of Roger Clemens (who denies using steroids).