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Reducing the side effects of corticosteroid treatment

By Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

Corticosteroids are a group of powerful drugs that are commonly used to reduce inflammation and allergic responses.

These drugs are highly effective but can have serious side effects so they need to be administered carefully. They are best used in the smallest doses and the shortest periods possible to solve the medical issue they are treating.

How are these drugs used?

Corticosteroids can be used in a number of ways, depending on what they are being used to treat.

They can be given

·        Orally – tablets, liquid medicines

·        Inhalers and nasal sprays

·        Injections, particularly used for inflamed joints

·        Topical application, such as creams for skin, eye drops and nasal drops

Corticosteroids can be used with other drugs, too, for specific results.

The side effects

There is a range of potential side effects from corticosteroid use, and most will go away after the treatment finishes.

Which side effects are likely will depend on how the drug is administered; for example, inhaled corticosteroids may cause coughing and a dry throat whereas a topical corticosteroid may lead to thin skin and red sores in that area.

Oral doses move through the entire body so they can cause more side effects then other means of taking the drugs.

Avoiding side effects

Whilst you can not totally avoid any side effects from use of corticosteroids, you can reduce the risk of them and the potential long term effects of them. All of these tips need to be discussed with your doctor to ensure they suit your medical condition and are used safely.

  1. low dose – always ask for the lowest possible dose that will help you
  2. short term – always ask to come off the drugs as quickly as possible
  3. take an oral dose only every second day – obviously, with your doctor’s agreement
  4. where possible, don’t take corticosteroids orally  - try another method of taking the drug
  5. Corticosteroids affect your immune system so your body will be more susceptible to infections during and just after the treatment. That means you need to take care of yourself, get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. You should also avoid

·         exposure to infections, especially chicken pox and measles

·         taking the oral polio vaccine

·         being close to people who have recently taken the oral polio vaccine

  1. If inhaling corticosteroids, rinsing out your mouth and gargling after each dose will reduce the likelihood of a dry, sore throat and coughing
  2. Injections can cause localised pain, infection, loss of skin colour and soft tissue shrinkage. To avoid this, doctors will limit the number of corticosteroid injections in one area; it is not common to have more than three injections in one year.
  3. stay active and reduce your calorie intake to avoid the weight gain and fat deposits, muscle weakness and osteoporosis side effects of oral corticosteroids. This will also keep any blood pressure increases to a minimum.
  4. take calcium and vitamin D to reduce the risk of osteoporosis (corticosteroids reduce the amount of calcium in your body)
  5. ensure you have plenty of proteins in your diet – corticosteroids affect protein metabolism so your body may not digest proteins as well during treatment
  6. reduce the  amount of salt and increase the potassium in your diet as cortisol and corticosteroids affect the salt/water balance in your body
  7. take oral doses with food to reduce any burning and the risk of ulcers
  8. ensure your doctor and pharmacist know of any other drugs, including herbal medications and vitamin supplements, in case any of them will make the side effects worse or more likely

Always come of long term use of corticosteroids slowly that your body has time to adjust and start making the hormone, cortisol again (the adrenal glands stop producing this hormone while you are taking corticosteroids.)



Clear communication is critical to the success of any business, but it is often left to care for itself in many businesses. Tash Hughes is a microbiologist, and a professional and skilled writer who makes technical and otherwise boring information accessible for everyone a business needs to communicate with. Next time you need webcopy, articles, newsletters, reports or any other business document, visit www.wordconstructions.com to see how Tash and her team can help your business succeed.



© 2007, Tash Hughes

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