(Reuters Health)—Sports physicians routinely prescribe corticosteroids to athletes for conditions, such as inflammation, asthma and allergies, but not all of them know which forms of these drugs are banned under anti-doping rules, a study suggests.
Although 73% of physicians knew athletes needed a medical exemption to use oral corticosteroids just before or during competition, far fewer knew exemptions were also required for other forms of these drugs including intravenous injections, ointments, creams and inhaled medicines.
“Where an athlete has a medical condition [e.g., inflammatory bowel disease or severe asthma] which requires the use of medication which is usually prohibited in sport [e.g., intravenous or oral glucocorticoid], the health of the athlete should take priority,” says researcher Dr. David Hughes of the Australian Institute of Sport, Bruce.
To keep competitions fair and prevent healthy athletes from using these drugs to improve their performance, sports physicians must be familiar with WADA regulations and ensure their patients get so-called therapeutic-use exemptions to take corticosteroids during competition when it’s medically necessary, Dr. Hughes says by email.
“Although there is evidence glucocorticoids may be abused when delivered by certain routes,” such as muscle injection “in very specific sporting scenarios [e.g., long-distance road cycling],” the overwhelming majority of corticosteroid use in sport is for legitimate treatment of injury and illness, he says.
Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation and are widely used to treat a range of medical conditions.
Injections are widely used in sports medicine and for conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, while oral forms are often prescribed for allergies and asthma, the study team notes in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.1
In the survey, 93% of sports medicine physicians said they prescribed injected corticosteroids.
Several forms of injections can only be used by athletes with therapeutic-use exemptions. Doctors in the survey were aware that exemptions were required for various forms of injections only 30–60% of the time.
Practitioners with more experience were more likely to correctly identify which forms of corticosteroids required exemptions.
The results suggest a lack of knowledge in sports medicine about these drugs may lead some athletes to fail anti-doping tests even when it wasn’t their intention to cheat, says Dr. Martine Duclos, a sports medicine specialist at the University Hospital of Clermont-Ferrand, France.