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Use of androgens and other hormones by athletes

Peter J Snyder, MD
Section Editors
Alvin M Matsumoto, MD
Michael P O'Leary, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Kathryn A Martin, MD


Some athletes use drugs to attempt to improve their performance. The focus of the general news media is on the professional athletes who are caught using hormonal drugs, most commonly, androgens, in sporting events such as the Olympics and major league baseball. However, the majority of individuals using these medications are recreational athletes (eg, weightlifters and bodybuilders) who use them to improve overall strength and personal appearance [1].

This topic will focus on the epidemiology and physical and adverse effects and detection of hormones used to improve athletic performance and physical appearance. The use of nonhormonal agents and nonpharmacologic enhancement methods (such as blood transfusions) are reviewed separately. (See "Prohibited non-hormonal performance-enhancing drugs in sport".)


Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) – Agents used to attempt to enhance athletic performance, and in the case of weightlifters/bodybuilders, physical appearance, with a goal of appearing leaner and more muscular. Although users take these drugs to improve their performance, data supporting their efficacy are limited. (See 'Efficacy' below.)

Doping – "Doping" refers to the use of banned substances in competitive sports.

Androgenic steroids (AS) – These (naturally occurring or synthetic) hormones increase lean body mass and decrease fat mass and are the most frequently used class of PEDs. These synthetic hormones differ from testosterone, as described below. The author of this topic uses the term "androgens" or "androgenic steroids" rather than "anabolic-androgenic steroids" because the anabolic effects of a steroid cannot be separated from its androgenic effects.


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Oct 11, 2016.
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