So pumped up that arm 'explodes'

There are many cautionary tales on the use of steroids, including health issues and uncontrollable rage.

But US bodybuilder Gregg Valentino is a horror story. The New Yorker once claimed to have the world's biggest biceps - 28.3 inches around, similar to having two footballs on each arm.

His physique gave him cult status as he looked like something from a comic book.

But just the title of the 2006 documentary that centred on his story - The Man Whose Arms Exploded - is enough to make anyone think twice about getting muscular through drugs.

The 51-year-old began bodybuilding in 1972. Even though he had naturally built his arms to 20.9 inches, Valentino decided his already-muscular physique was not enough.

He is only 1.65m-tall and admits to having something of a Napoleon complex. Bodybuilding was his way of being noticed.

"It looks ridiculous. But then again, if I can't grow taller, then I'm going to be the biggest freak I can be," he told bodybuilding site T Nation in 2002.

He could be suffering from muscle dismorphia - a condition that pop culture has labelled bigorexia.

Essentially, the opposite of anorexia, where sufferers starve themselves in the belief that they are fat, bigorexia sufferers are convinced they aren't big enough. They try to build as much muscle as possible.

When he was 36, Valentino turned to steroids. This shocked friends as he didn't even drink alcohol or take coffee. He injected the drugs straight into his arms.

Over time, his need saw him become careless when he was injecting and, worse, using old, dirty needles. This caused an infection.

In the late 1990s, his left arm developed a haematoma, where blood collects outside the muscle. His bicep ballooned with fluid. As Valentino puts it: "It was like a giant zit."

In the documentary's most shocking scene, Valentino is shown trying to drain the arm himself.

As he pushes a bent needle into his arm and draws out syringe after syringe of blood.

He ended up having to undergo emergency surgery. To save his arm, surgeons cut into his much-prized muscle, leaving the arm deformed in a different way - with a massive scar.

He admits: "I was an idiot".

Lost his wealth, wife and health

He was also sucked into the world of dealing in steroids. In the US, the selling and use of steroids is illegal. It was a downward spiral for him.

In May 2001, Valentino lost everything when he was arrested for dealing in steroids. He lost his houses, his cars and the gym.

His wife of 10 years left him.

Taking large amounts of steroids for a prolonged amount of time can cause serious health issues. Take the example of Mr Steve Michalik.

A former training partner of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he took steroids at the height of his bodybuilding career.

Then he started to pass blood in his urine. He discovered that it was because multiple tumours were destroying his liver. He stopped using steroids immediately, but the effects continued to plague him.

The former Mr Universe 1975, once seen as the perfect physical specimen, suffered a heart attack, a stroke and spent time in a mental institution.

He was also left with incredibly low testosterone levels and - according to the documentary - "testicles the size of peanuts".

Valentino still extoled the virtues of steroid use when he was a columnist for Muscular Development magazine and criticised their demonisation.

In the 2008 documentary Bigger Stronger Faster, he said that "steroids are as American as apple pie".

But his outlook changed in 2009 after his daughter told him he was used as the example of steroid abuse at her school.

He no longer encourages steroid use.

He told ESPN: "I think you're an idiot if you do them. If you get caught, you're going to go to jail." - Jonathan Roberts

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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