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  • Writer's pictureHeather

Long-term Effects of Steroid Medications

Steroids are a synthetic version of hormones normally produced by our adrenal glands which are 2 small glands found just above the kidneys. Corticosteroid drugs — including cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone — are useful in treating many conditions, such as rashes, inflammatory bowel disease, eczema and asthma. When taken in doses higher than the amount our body normally produces, steroids reduce redness and swelling (inflammation). Steroids also reduce the activity of the immune system, which is the body's natural defense against illness and infection. When prescribed in this way, steroids can help treat autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, which are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body. The positive effects of steroid medications are largely limited to short-term prescription and use. Ask anyone that has suffered with an autoimmune disorder, or experienced the intense pain of a badly swollen joint, and the accolades for steroids readily come in. Steroid medications can be administered in several different methods, depending on the condition being treated, the age of the patient and the chronicity of the malady. The most common methods of steroid administration are:

  • By mouth - tablets, capsules or syrups help treat the inflammation and pain associated with certain chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

  • By injection – this form is often used to treat muscle and joint problems such as pain and inflammation. The advantage to injection application is the ability to localize the distribution of the steroid.

  • Topically – creams and ointments can help many skin conditions.

  • By inhaler or intranasal spray – this form of medication can help control inflammation associated with asthma and nasal allergies.

But these drugs also carry a risk of various side effects. The biggest risks of dangerous side effects involve the long-term use of steroidal medications. Potential side effects of steroids also involve the dose received and the method of administration. Some potential dangers of steroids are:

  1. Elevated pressure in the eyes and/or clouding of the lens in one or both eyes. This can potentially lead to glaucoma or cataracts.

  2. Increased risk of infections, especially with common bacterial, viral or fungal organisms.

  3. High blood sugar which can trigger or worsen diabetes.

  4. Thinning bones (osteoporosis) and increased risk of fractures, especially in older people involving hip joints.

  5. High blood pressure, fluid retention and possible swelling in lower legs.

  6. Suppressed adrenal gland hormone production that may result in severe fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, and nausea.

  7. Problems with mood swings, memory loss, behavioral changes, confusion and delirium.

Corticosteroids may relieve inflammation and pain from many different diseases and conditions. These powerful medications can also cause a wide range of unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects. As with the vast majority of prescription medications, these are best used on a short-term, limited basis.


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