Using steroids to bulk up? Watch for kidney damage

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Anabolic steroids - the kind used by some athletes to build muscle mass - can cause lasting kidney damage, according to research presented today at the American Society of Nephrology’s 42nd Annual Meeting in San Diego.

Presenter Dr. Leal Herlitz, from Columbia University Medical Center, New York, told Reuters Health that years ago, her group came across several men who technically met the definition for obesity but who were actually extremely muscular athletes.

Many of the men had been taking steroids for more than a decade - and had more severe kidney disease than those who were obese and not muscular. That led the team to wonder whether steroids could have a toxic effect on the kidneys.

How steroids might damage kidneys is unclear, Herlitz said, but studies in animals suggest that such hormones may worsen such damage.

When they looked at 10 bodybuilders who used steroids, they found significant kidney problems. One progressed rapidly to end-stage kidney disease, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.

However, much of the damage was reversible. Eight of the men could be treated successfully with medications. Those who stopped using steroids and reduced the amount of exercise, they lost weight, and their kidney function improved.

“Three patients who essentially returned to normal all presented with relatively early/mild disease, “Dr. Herlitz said. “It appears that when diagnosed and treated in the early stages, the disease is reversible, but in more advanced stages, patients may improve some, but are left with chronic and irreversible kidney damage.”