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Anabolic steroids are used in medical and non-medical ways to reduce internal inflammation and build new muscle mass by boosting the body's levels of growth-spurring hormones like testosterone. Though primarily taken orally or via injection, a fairly new type of application, steroid gel, was first prescribed in 2000, under the brand names AndroGel® and Testim®. This muscle booster has been prescribed ever since to boost the body's natural levels of testosterone for those with abnormally low levels — or even illicitly by those seeking to make the levels higher than normal.
Physicians prescribe steroids for a variety of legitimate health reasons. These range from endometroisis and some cancers to osteoporosis and anemia. No cosmetic steroid treatments, however, have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as of 2011. This includes steroid gel, which is applied to the skin over key muscle groups at least twice a day.
According to the AndroGel® Web site, low testoterone levels can result in a variety of health problems. These include lethargy, lack of libido, depression, adipose fat increases, lack of muscular development, and a loss of body hair. Doctors may prescribe a steroid gel for people with these symptoms. Manufacturers recommend that the gel be smeared conservatively on the chest, shoulders, upper arms and abdomen. The genitals should be avoided.
The controversy is not caused by the therapeutic use, but rather by those with normal testosterone levels who acquire steroid gel without a prescription in an effort to build extra muscle. According to medical professionals, this can cause extreme mood swings, a shrinkage of the testicles, confused thinking and even aggressive tendencies. Such risks are rare when patients have low testosterone levels.
In 2009, the FDA insisted that manufacturers of steroid gel make stark changes to their packaging. The revisions made clear that, regardless of low or normal testosterone levels, steroid gel can increase a person's chances for having swollen prostate glands. For those with breast cancer or other carcinomas, further developments are more likely after using steroid gel.
Another side effect includes a marked chance for secondary exposure. This means that those not taking the drug can become exposed to it through skin-to-skin contact. In children, this secondary exposure can cause virilization, or the exaggerated and early onset of puberty and genital growth. The FDA recommends that women and children avoid contact with the regions of men that have undergone steroid gel application. It also urges those using the medication to wash their hands thoroughly after each use.