You’ve probably heard of athletes or bodybuilders who take steroids or of someone being prescribed steroids to treat an ailment. But there’s more than one type of steroid, and depending on what you’re taking, you are likely to experience different side effects. Anabolic steroids are the kind that bodybuilders take while corticosteroids are steroids given to treat health problems. The latter act as anti-inflammatory medication to heal and cure the body of a range of illnesses. And we are exploring these here. “Steroid” in what follows means corticosteroid.
You may be given corticosteroids as tablets, liquids or syrups to consume orally, as injections to be taken in your blood vessels, muscles or joints, or even in nasal sprays or inhalers. Some steroids are meant for topical use and come in gel, lotion, or cream form. And with each medium or mode of application or use, come different possible side effects.
Side Effects Of Different Corticosteroids
The National Health Service clearly distinguishes between the side effects of steroids when taken in its different forms. Certain side effects like those of tablets may begin to appear in other modes of intake like inhalers if they are consumed for a greater length of time at high dosages.
Some of the most common problems people face when they have steroids are stomach pain, indigestion, rise in appetite, rise in blood sugar levels, fluid build up, and mood changes.1
1. Steroid Tablets
- Intake of steroids in tablet form can result in side effects like indigestion and heartburn, stomach pain, trouble sleeping, and even weight gain due to increased appetite.
- Some of you may find your skin thinning and body bruising easily; or develop stretch marks and a round face – all characteristics of Cushing’s syndrome.
- Mood changes could leave you feeling very low or very high. Sometimes, this could result in depression and suicidal thoughts.
- If you are diabetic, be warned that steroid tablets can cause blood sugar to rise and worsen your condition. Glaucoma or cataracts may develop.
- A weakening of bones and high blood pressure are other side effects to watch out for.2 3
2. Steroid Inhalers
When you take steroids through an inhaler,
- You may develop a sore throat and mouth or even a cough.
- You could also find your voice going hoarse.
- Some people even develop oral thrush with redness and white patches accompanied by a sore mouth.
- Nosebleeds may also occur.4
3. Steroid Injections
- Temporary bruising where the injection has been given
- Facial flushing, which usually goes away in a few hours
- A loss of fat at injection site resulting in dimpling and/or paler skin that could become permanent
In case you also experience any kind of pain or swelling as well as redness, it could be an infection and merits a check-up by your doctor. Those with diabetes may also find a temporary rise in blood sugar levels lasting about five days.
4. Topical Corticosteroids
- When you use steroidal creams, lotions, or even gels, you may at first experience some gentle stinging or burning at the spot where you put the cream. Then, as your body gets used to the steroid, the discomfort too should wane.
- Other typical side effects are skin thickening or thinning, darkening, and stretch marks. However, if you apply the medicines correctly and as per dosage prescribed, you should not see any permanent effects on your skin.7
- If you already have a skin condition like acne, it could get worse.
- You could also have an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis.
- Some people also see excessive hair growth in the area where the topical corticosteroid is applied.
5. Steroid Nasal Sprays
Steroid nasal sprays can cause some side effects that may result from incorrect usage of the spray or because of a reaction to it.8
- Burning, dryness, or stinging. If you want to avoid this sensation, simply hold you head over some steam in your sink for a while before you use the spray. Alternatively, you could consider using it after a shower.
- Irritation of the throat
Nosebleeds: This may need urgent attention and isn’t a common side effect. Sometimes you could develop an infection in your nasal passage. Needless to say, this will need to be check and treated by a doctor. For a few unfortunate souls, a perforation could develop in the nasal passage. To avoid this, take care never to spray toward the middle of your nose. You should always aim at the outer wall.
Long-Term Effects Of Corticosteroids
If you continue the use of corticosteroids over a long period of time, especially when the doses are high or the variant you’re using is very potent, you could see side effects that are less common. These are also more serious and are better avoided. If you do experience any of these, consult your doctor immediately to explore alternatives.9 10
- Adrenal insufficiency or adrenal suppression as cortisol production is inhibited from prolonged use
- Cataracts or glaucoma that hamper vision
- Hepatic and gastrointestinal problems
- Growth suppression in children
- Congenital malformations
- Cushing’s syndrome marked by a swollen face, acne, dark marks, and facial hair
- Muscle wasting that causes your muscles to ache or your legs to feel weak, making activities like walking seem harder
Some issues tend to arise even with topical corticosteroids because the steroids are absorbed into your bloodstream. They could then start internal side effects like Cushing’s syndrome or slow growth of children taking the medicine.11
|↑1||Steroids. Macmillan Cancer Support.|
|↑2||What are the possible risks and side-effects of steroid tablets? Arthritis Research UK.|
|↑3||Steroid tablets. NHS.|
|↑4||Steroid inhalers. NHS.|
|↑5||Steroid injections. American Society for Surgery of the Hand.|
|↑6||Steroid injections. NHS.|
|↑7||I already moisturize twice a day, do I really need a topical steroid? National Eczema Association.|
|↑8||Nasal corticosteroid sprays. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑9||Buchman, Alan L. “Side effects of corticosteroid therapy.” Journal of clinical gastroenterology 33, no. 4 (2001): 289-294.|
|↑10||Steroids (dexamethasone, prednisolone, methyl prednisolone).Cancer Research UK.|
|↑11||Topical corticosteroids. NHS.|