How they reveal steroid abuse

Posted by james 23/06/2019 0 Comment(s) Health,

Techniques to Reveal Steroid Abuse in Sport

holding a Blood sample in ampuleNowadays, there are many performance-enhancing drugs, not only steroids. However, nothing compares to steroids in muscle and endurance building, and they remain the most used drugs even in professional sports.


Different anti-doping agencies have been struggling to reveal steroid abuse, as its use and misuse has become a complex science. In professional sports, athletes use substances with the help of medical specialists; they use numerous masking methods, posing a massive challenge to the testing authorities.


As a response to widespread doping, agencies have also come up with numerous complex ways of testing. Today, and control agency would use an array of tests.


In most cases, agencies would test urine and blood for the presence of exogenous steroids, though new methods like testing hair or nails are also emerging.


Below are some of the commonly used methods:

  • Testing of steroids in blood and urine. It is a straightforward method, which will rarely produce result these days, as most would stop using steroids before competitions. Read our article aboute the urine test HERE.
  • Non-targeted testing. Most athletes at the amateur level get caught by this method. In this method, the lab will not test for testosterone or other steroids; instead, test for their metabolites. Each steroid produces a unique set of metabolites that should not be there in the body fluids. Though the body would clear itself of steroids in a few weeks, metabolites may stay there for longer.
  • Looking for endocrinal signature. It is well known that steroids suppress the natural production of testosterone and affects the levels of other hormones like LH. Changes in endocrinal function tests may not identify the substance used, but it can tell authorities need for further investigation.
  • T/E ratio. If a person is using pure testosterone, proving anything poses a severe challenge as testosterone is also naturally produced by testicles. Thus, researchers found that in testosterone abuse person will have high or normal levels of testosterone, but levels of its metabolite with much shorter half-life called epitestosterone will not increase much. It means that the T/E ratio of 6 or above is almost indicative of testosterone use.
  • Carbon isotope ratio. T/E ratio is effective but not foolproof methods. Some professional athletes started using epitestosterone injection to change the T/E ratio in their favor and mask the use of steroids. Thus, some testing bodies use 13C/12C carbon isotope ratio to differentiate between natural and exogenous testosterone.


Among the indirect approaches, WADA has also started to maintain an athlete’s biological passport. It is well known that athletes stop using steroids much before the competition to avoid detection. So, agencies like WADA have started testing athletes much before or regularly for some health indicators. Tests in biological passport do not check for steroid use, rather for changes in endocrinal function pointing at steroid abuse.


There is a continuing war between steroids users and anti-doping agencies. Those who use steroids come up with newer methods to mask steroid abuse, doping agencies reply by finding new techniques. In recent years agencies are focusing on testing nails or hair, as drugs may remain accumulated in them for much longer.


To conclude, what tests would be used to detect steroid use will depend on the anti-doping agency, level of athlete. At amateur levels, it is easier to escape these tests as they would use simpler methods like testing for metabolites of steroids, and T/E ratio. However, agencies like WADA deploy a range of sophisticated techniques, making it difficult to mask steroid abuse.