Though effective at relieving inflammation, corticosteroids can raise your risk of infection.
Corticosteroids are man-made drugs that work like cortisol, a natural hormone in your body.
These medicines reduce inflammation and alter the immune system.
They're used to treat a variety of medical conditions, including:
- Skin conditions, such as rashes or eczema
- Autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or lupus
- Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
Corticosteroids are different from anabolic steroids, which athletes sometimes use (and abuse).
How Are Corticosteroids Given?
Corticosteroids can be taken in a range of formulations:
- Oral pill
- Oral liquid
- Topical cream
- Eye drop
- Ear drop
- An infusion by IV
Some commonly used corticosteroids include:
- Sterapred (prednisone)
- Medrol (methylprednisolone)
- Orapred (prednisolone)
Side Effects of Corticosteroids
The side effects of corticosteroids are numerous, and vary depending on the dosage, the length of time the drugs are used, and the general health and age of the individual taking the drugs.
Side effects of corticosteroids may include:
- Weight gain
- Increased hunger or thirst
- Frequent urination
- Mood swings
- Blurred vision
- Muscle weakness
- Stunted growth (when used by children)
- Increased body hair
- Easy bruising
- Swollen, puffy face
- High blood pressure
- Worsening of diabetes
- Upset stomach
- Trouble sleeping
- Water retention
- Cataracts or glaucoma
- Skin and vaginal infections, especially with yeast (Candida)
What You Should Know Before Taking Corticosteroids
Corticosteroids may raise your risk of developing an infection. Tell your doctor if you notice any signs of infection, such as a fever, a sore throat, or coughing.
Be sure to tell all doctors who treat you that you're taking a corticosteroid medicine.
Your healthcare provider may suggest that you carry a card or wear an ID bracelet stating that you're taking a corticosteroid, in case of a medical emergency.
Don't get any vaccinations while taking a corticosteroid without first talking to your doctor.
Tell your doctor about all medical conditions you have before starting on a corticosteroid, especially:
- Any eye condition
- Liver, kidney, or heart disease
- Depression or another mental illness
- Tuberculosis (TB)
- A thyroid disorder
Don't stop taking a corticosteroid without first talking to your doctor. Your doctor may want to end your treatment gradually to prevent withdrawal.
Corticosteroids may slow or stop growth in children. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern.
Tell your doctor about all prescription, non-prescription, illegal, recreational, herbal, nutritional, or dietary drugs you're taking before starting on a corticosteroid.
Corticosteroids and Diet
If you take a corticosteroid for a long period of time, your doctor may tell you to follow a low-salt and potassium-rich diet.
You may also be told to consume extra protein, and to watch your calorie intake to prevent weight gain.
You may need to avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice while taking corticosteroids, as they can affect how these drugs work in your body. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern.
Corticosteroids and Pregnancy
Tell your doctor if you're pregnant or might become pregnant while taking a corticosteroid.
These drugs may harm an unborn baby, especially if they're taken during the first trimester.
Also, talk to your doctor before taking a corticosteroid if you’re breastfeeding.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Steroids, MedlinePlus.
- Corticosteroids, Cleveland Clinic.
- Corticosteroids, Mayo Clinic.