Context: In 2017, there were almost 2.5 million high school students who experienced a concussion while playing a sport, raising concern for the neurologic problems that they could face. Some of these athletes may seek to gain a competitive advantage in their sport by utilizing substances like steroids. However, steroid use can cause increased aggression and body mass index (BMI), which might lead to heightened risk for concussions. Despite extensive research, we found no previous evidence linking these two factors.
Objectives: This analysis aims to investigate steroid use trends in high school athletes and to determine whether there is an association between steroid use and concussions in these athletes.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of the cumulative Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Respondents were added if they participated in sports and answered the steroid and concussion prompts. Demographic variables were assessed including age, grade, BMI, gender, and race/ethnicity.
Results: We found that 3.7 % (n=2991) of high school athletes reported previous steroid use and that 20.7 % (n=2273) reported having sustained a concussion. There was a statistically significant difference in steroid use by race/ethnicity (p<0.001), with the highest rate of use (7.2 %) among American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/AN). A significantly higher prevalence of steroid use occurred in athletes who were males (4.7 %) than females (2.5 %) and in athletes with a BMI>95 % (5.2 %) compared with those with a BMI between 85 and 95 % (3.9 %) and <85 % (3.5 %) (χ2=135.1, p<0.001 and χ2=16.3, p<0.001, respectively). Further, our results showed that the prevalence of steroid use among high school athletes decreased from 3.4 % in 1999 to 1.9 % in 2019, with the most drastic drop occurring between 2015 and 2019—declining 1.9 %. Whereas 19.6 % of athletes reported a concussion without steroid use, 54.6 % of steroid-utilizing athletes reported having experienced a concussion—a statistically significant finding (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=4.3; 95 % CI: 3.2–5.9). Finally, compared with White athletes, we found that AI/AN athletes were significantly more likely to have sustained a concussion (AOR=2.3; 95 % CI=1.2–4.3).
Conclusions: Although our study found decreasing rates of steroid use among high school athletes from 1999 through 2019, our results also show that steroid use is significantly associated with sustaining a concussion. Additionally, the data from YRBSS also demonstrates that AI/AN high school athletes are more likely to utilize steroids and sustain a concussion. Given the long-term consequences of traumatic brain injuries, we recommend that coaches should be aware of potential steroid use among players, and that coaches, athletic trainers, and physicians should all be aware of concussion protocols and remove players from games for evaluation when a concussion is suspected.