Category: Medications  

Side Effects of Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are not the same type of steroids that athletes have used to build muscle. They are the most effective treatment for many allergic diseases (asthma, hayfever) and important adjuncts for others (anaphylaxis, sinusitis). When used appropriately they are quite safe and are often prescribed when necessary to the most vulnerable patients, small children, the elderly and pregnant women.

Side effects of corticosteroids vary widely and their severity and specific nature depend on the dose and route of administration:

Side Effects of Inhaled Corticosteroids. These medications are usually well tolerated. Some common side effects of inhaled steroids are throat irritation, hoarseness, and dry mouth. Minor fungal infections (thrush) in the mouth and throat are also possible but these are easily treatable. You can reduce these effects by adhering to good inhaler technique and rinsing out your mouth after use (see How to use your inhaler). Inhaled steroids only very rarely cause any of the more serious side effects reported with prolonged use of oral steroids.

Side Effects of Oral Corticosteroids. For short term use these are usually well tolerated. Temporary side effects when taking steroids for a few days may include insomnia, mood changes, increased appetite and perhaps a few pounds of weight gain (usually water). These should promptly resolve when the drug is stopped. These drugs are prescribed when other drugs have failed or when the condition warrants their use. Understandably, many patients are concerned about steroid drugs. But it is usually the effect of prolonged use of oral steroids in fairly high doses that lead to long term serious effects. Such dosing is seldom required in our practice. For your information long term use may lead to one or multiple effects including cataracts, glaucoma, osteoporosis, diabetes, fluid retention, susceptibility to infections, weight gain, hypertension, capillary fragility, acne, wasting of the muscles, menstrual irregularities, irritability, insomnia, and other mood changes. Osteoporosis is a common and particularly severe long-term side effect of prolonged steroid use. Medications that can prevent osteoporosis include calcium supplements, parathyroid hormone, bisphophonates, or hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women. Vitamin C and E may help reduce the risk of cataracts.

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