CHICAGO (AP) _ Women who take anabolic steroids to improve athletic performance can expect masculine, sometimes irreversible side effects such as deeper voices and increased facial hair, a study says.

Anabolic steroids, or synthetic male hormones, ''have received considerable attention during the past decade because of increasing use by male athletes attempting to improve their performance,'' researchers said in a study in Friday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

''It is clear some female athletes also use these hormones, as shown by the detection of anabolic steroids in the urine of women competing in international events in the shot put, the javelin throw, and running,'' said the researchers, all from Ohio State University at Columbus.

While steroids are used by athletes to increase muscle strength and size, their only accepted medical use is to replace lost testosterone, a male hormone, or to treat some types of anemia in men, said Dr. Richard Strauss of the university's department of preventive medicine.

The use of steroids ''is considered unethical by almost all sports organizations in the United States'' and is banned by the International Olympic Committee, Strauss said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

To determine what side effects women athletes experience, researchers interviewed 10 amateur athletes who participate in such sports as track and weightlifting at the national level.

All used steroids in conjunction with weight-training and requested anonymity.

Anabolic steroids are prescription drugs generally obtained by athletes ''on the black market,'' Strauss said. ''We didn't ask these women where they got them.''

''All women reported a significant increase in muscle streight said their clitorises had enlarged.

While previous studies have shown those side effects may be permanent, the women said they would continue to use steroids, Strauss said.

Other reported side effects usually disappear when steroid use is discontinued, Strauss said. Those included increased aggressiveness, reported by eight of the 10 women; decreased or stopped menstruation, seven reporting; increased sex drive, six reporting; and decreased breast size, five reporting.

All those interviewed said they took a combination of steroids in cycles, increasing the dosage before competition. The largest dose reported was nine times the recommended medicinal dose for men, taken during a four-week cycle.

The mean age of the participants was 33. The mean height was 5-feet-4.2 and the mean weight, 152 pounds. The mean length of time they had been using steroids was 2.1 years.

While the ''incidence and patterns of anabolic steroid use by women athletes, in general, are unknown,'' the researchers said their findings confirm steroids, ''in doses currently used, are masculinizing in women athletes.''

Strauss said the amounts used by those interviewed were considered comparable to those used by most women athletes who take steroids.

''The participants justified their use of anabolic steroids on the grounds that (1) these drugs were necessary to win; (2) the side effects, although sometimes undesirable, were acceptable to them and their friends; and (3) it was within their individual rights to use anabolic steroids if they wished,'' the study said.