Corticosteroids come in many different forms. They can be taken orally, used topically, inhaled, or even injected. Additionally, are also known as being systemic or localized. Systemic steroids are typically delivered orally, via IV, or intramuscularly, and work by moving through the blood; whereas localized steroids target a specific part of the body and are usually applied topically through things like skin creams, eye or ear drops, and inhalers.
In many cases, corticosteroids are often only taken for a short-term basis due to their many and sometimes unusual (and even sometimes severe) side effects. However, if your physician has prescribed a corticosteroid to you, then he or she has determined that the benefits outweigh the risks. That being said, it’s still important to be aware of the potential side effects that can develop when on a corticosteroid – especially if you have taken them for an extended period of time – which will be outlined later on in this article. But first, let’s take a look at the reasons why corticosteroids are prescribed in the first place.
The most common reason why an individual is prescribed a corticosteroid is due to inflammation in the body. Signs of inflammation include things like swelling, redness, warmth, and pain. When on a corticosteroid, it will reduce the production of the chemical that causes the inflammation by decreasing the body’s immune system activity. Another reason why a corticosteroid may be prescribed is when a patient has undergone an organ transplant. In this case, suppressing the immune system with a corticosteroid can help reduce the likelihood of your organ transplant being rejected. Autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), skin conditions (such as eczema and dermatitis), and respiratory conditions (such as asthma.)
As for the side effects, as mentioned, the longer you are on a steroid, then the more you will notice them. The side effects that you experience also depend on the way in which you are taking the corticosteroid. If you are on a corticosteroid for asthma, then these are generally well-tolerated, though if they are used on a long-term basis it’s not uncommon to develop a condition known as oral thrush – a type of fungal infection that develops in the mouth. When you are on injected corticosteroids, it’s not uncommon to experience pain and swelling at the site of the injection, just as you would from any other medication injection/vaccination. Typically, this will dissipate within a few days, although if you give injections repeatedly then this can cause your muscles to weaken. Corticosteroids that are given intravenously can cause things like stomach irritation (including heartburn and indigestion), nausea, a metallic-like taste in the mouth, insomnia, and may even cause you to have a rapid heartbeat in addition to mood changes. Oral corticosteroids, when taken on a short-term basis, can cause a temporary increase in appetite as well as weight gain, fluid retention, insomnia and mood swings, while long-term use can result in things like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, increased infection vulnerability, eye problems (i.e. cataracts and glaucoma), thinning of the skin, and bruising.
If you happen to develop any of the aforementioned side effects, you should always report them to your physician as soon as possible but also never suddenly stop taking the medication in which you have been prescribed, as this, too, can result in some unfavourable symptoms, such as fatigue, weight loss, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Whether side effects are or aren’t present, doctors typically like to get patients off steroids by using a taper-down method. For example, if you are taking 2 tablets, you might decrease to one the next day, followed by half the following day, and so on – as this will be much easier on the body.