Side Effects of Corticosteroids

Many people associate steroids with athletes and body builders, but the most common use of steroid products are legal and used to treat conditions from skin infections to arthritis to inflammatory bowel diseases as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. The former type are called “anabolic steroids”, referring to drugs derived from the male hormone testosterone. The latter are “corticosteroids,” drugs closely related to cortisol, a hormone which is naturally produced in the adrenal cortex (the outer layer of the adrenal gland). Release of these hormones is governed by the pituitary gland.

This article focuses first on the more common, but less widely known, corticosteroids. They can be administered orally, injected into a vein or directly into a muscle, applied to the skin, or injected directly into inflamed joints. Corticosteroids can also be used as ingredients in eye products, inhalers, nasal drops and sprays, topical creams, ointments, and lotions as needed for the particular condition.

Corticosteroids are considered “miracle drugs” by some, but their serious side effects require careful use based on strict physician instructions, “tapering off” rather than simply ceasing to take them, and close physician observation.

Common side effects include:

* Acne
* Round, puffy, or moon-shaped face
* Increased appetite leading to weight gain
* Redistribution of fat, leading to heavy face and abdomen and thinner extremities
* Delicate skin, easily bruised
* Irritability
* Agitation
* Euphoria/inflated sense of well-being
* Depression
* Insomnia
* Restlessness

Other effects with high dosage or long-term use can cause these more rare side effects:

* Cataracts
* Glaucoma
* Osteoporosis
* Darkening or lightening of skin color
* Dizziness or lightheadedness
* Flushing of face or cheeks
* Hiccups
* Increased joint pain (after injection into a joint)
* Increased sweating
* Sensation of spinning

Be sure to contact your doctor immediately if you experience:

* Decreased or blurred vision
* Frequent urination
* Increased thirst
* Blindness (sudden, when injected in the head or neck area)
* Burning, numbness, pain, or tingling at or near place of injection
* Confusion
* Hyper-Excitement
* Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)
* Mistaken feelings of self-importance or paranoia
* Sudden, radical mood swings
* Redness, swelling, or other sign of allergic reaction or infection

Corticosteroids can dampen your immune system. Any infection or illness you contract may be harder to treat. Check with your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any possible signs of an infection, such as sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing. Wash your hands often and increase your vitamin C intake to help stave off infection.

After stopping this medicine, a body may need time to adjust. The length of time this takes depends on the amount of medication taken and how long it was used. After large doses over a long period of time, it may take up to one year for the body to produce a normal amount of the substance. During this time, check with your doctor immediately if any of the following side effects occur:

* Abdominal, stomach, or back pain
* Dizziness
* Fainting
* Fever
* Loss of appetite (continuing)
* Muscle or joint pain
* Nausea
* Reappearance of disease symptoms
* Shortness of breath
* Unexplained headaches (frequent or continuing)
* Unusual tiredness or weakness
* Vomiting
* Weight loss (rapid)

Other side effects can also occur in some patients. If you notice anything unusual, contact your doctor. This information is meant only as a guideline – always consult a physician or pharmacist for complete information about prescription medications, or any side effects interfere with your daily functioning or made you unduly uncomfortable.

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