Detection of anabolic androgenic steroid use by elite athletes and by members of the general public

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2018 Mar 15;464:21-27. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2017.09.027. Epub 2017 Sep 21.


Because national and international sports competitions are sources of community pride and financial revenue, there have been great efforts to prevent and detect the use of performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic androgenic steroids by elite athletes. The World Anti-Doping Agency and its national affiliate anti-doping agencies have created sophisticated monitoring systems and advanced testing techniques to detect the use of banned substances including anabolic androgenic steroids by participants in international and national athletic competitions. The creation of a longitudinal monitoring program known as the biological passport is a recent, important development in the efforts to prevent and detect the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs and methods. The biological passport program consists of the measurement of urinary and blood markers of anabolic androgenic steroid use (and other banned drugs or methods) at baseline and at random times. A panel of experts reviews the longitudinal data and interprets the likelihood of the use of banned drugs and methods. These advances in anti-doping appear to be highly effective, but some athletes persist in their efforts to cheat the detection process. In addition, some members of the general public use anabolic androgenic steroids for a variety of reasons including to improve physical appearance or to enhance performance in athletics. Clinicians must depend on clinical acumen and the measurement of serum testosterone and gonadotropins to guide them in making a tentative diagnosis of anabolic androgenic steroid use. Definitive diagnosis requires that the patient disclose the use of the drugs. Because anabolic androgenic steroids are effective for improving certain aspects of physical performance, some elite athletes (and members of the general public) will continue to use these drugs. Effective efforts to curtail the use of these drugs will require decreasing the ease of access to them, continued advancements in laboratory techniques, and perhaps a shift in societal approbation for athletic performance and muscular appearance.

Keywords: Anabolic androgenic steroids; Anti-doping; Biological passport; Sex steroids; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Athletes*
  • Doping in Sports
  • Humans


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens