Anabolic steroids particularly dangerous for people with ARVC

13th June 2016

Misusing anabolic steroids is particularly dangerous for people with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), the British Cardiovascular Society conference has been told.

It was already known that the steroids, sometimes taken by sportspeople to boost performance, are associated with high blood pressure and heart wall thickening.

Now a team of researchers from the University of Birmingham have found evidence to suggest that, when taken by people with ARVC, steroids could lead to changes in heart muscle structure and problems with the heart's electrical signals.

ARVC is caused by a mutation in one or more genes responsible for the proteins that hold heart muscle cells together. The researchers gave dihydrotestosterone, an anabolic steroid commonly used to improve athletic performance, to mice with a deficiency in one of these proteins.

They found that, in these hearts, the electrical signal that tells when the heart to beat travelled around the heart more slowly than usual. This slowing down of electrical activity put these hearts at greater risk of abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have used anabolic steroids for non-medical reasons.

Larissa Fabritz, senior author and reader in cardiovascular sciences at the university, said:”The misuse of steroids is fast becoming an emerging global health problem. Our results show that it could explain why seemingly healthy individuals are suffering from serious heart problems."

Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said that the study, part funded by the BHF, reinforced evidence that using anabolic steroids can have dangerous side effects, particularly in those who often unknowingly have heart problems."

These changes would increase the likelihood that steroid takers would suffer from atrial fibrillation, a major cause of stroke.