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9 side effects of corticosteroids

Discover the 9 side effects of corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids or corticosteroids can cause side effects such as weight gain, acne, stretch marks, high blood pressure, brittle bones, or difficulty sleeping, especially when used in high doses or for long periods.

This occurs because they alter the effect of the hormone cortisol, interfering with the functioning of cells throughout the body, such as skin, fatty tissue, or bones, for example. 

Generally, these medications are used to reduce inflammation or decrease the activity of the body’s immune system related to health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or even to treat severe allergic reactions. or anaphylactic reactions. 


The side effects of corticosteroids can be mild and reversible, disappearing when the drug is stopped, or irreversible, so the use of these drugs must be always carried out under medical indication and through regular consultations, with the aim of monitoring of treatment and any side effects that may arise. 

Some of the more common side effects that can appear during treatment include:

1. Weight gain

Corticosteroids, especially when taken orally, can make the body retain more salt, which, in large amounts in the body, increases fluid retention, which promotes weight gain. 

Likewise, corticosteroids cause an increase in appetite and also affect metabolism and the way the body deposits fat, generating an increase and redistribution of body fat, which can accumulate mainly in the abdomen, face, and back. of the neck, as occurs in Cushing’s syndrome, which can also promote weight gain. 

2. Skin changes

Corticosteroids can cause skin alterations even when used in low doses; however, it is more common to occur with high doses and with long-term treatment.


This is because these drugs inhibit fibroblasts, which are skin cells responsible for the production of collagen, which can cause the formation of wide red stretch marks on the skin, very marked on the abdomen, thighs, breasts, and arms. 

In addition, the use of corticosteroids can increase the risk of developing acne, ear hairs or dermatitis, and can also make the skin thin and fragile, which can cause the appearance of small, fine blood vessels that are red or brown on the skin, redness of the face, formation of ecchymoses, which are purple marks on the skin, and poor wound healing. 

3. Diabetes

The use of corticosteroids increases the risk of developing diabetes, mainly in people who have a family history of this disease or who have a high risk of developing it.

This occurs because these drugs, mainly in high doses, generate a reduction in insulin production or an increase in resistance to this hormone, which causes an increase in the amount of glucose in the blood. 

This side effect usually goes away when the drug is stopped and only remains when the person has a genetic predisposition or already has diabetes. 


4. High pressure

Corticosteroids interfere with the balance of the amount of water, salts, and minerals in the body, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, causing fluid retention within the blood vessels, which can cause or worsen hypertension. 

Normally, this side effect is more common with high doses of this drug and with its prolonged use, and may also occur an increase in total cholesterol and atherosclerosis, which is the deposit of fat in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

5. Osteoporosis

The prolonged use of corticosteroids can cause osteoporosis by causing a decrease in the number and activity of the cells responsible for the formation of bones and by increasing their absorption, generating a loss of bone mass, which makes the bones more brittle and increases the risk of fractures.

Likewise, corticosteroids decrease the absorption of calcium by the bones, which is a fundamental mineral for strengthening, increasing resistance, and maintaining their health, which is why it increases the risk of osteoporosis. 

6. Stomach and intestinal disorders

Corticosteroids can cause stomach and intestinal disorders, increasing the risk of effects such as heartburn, gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, or gastrointestinal bleeding, especially when taken together with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid, or naproxen, for example. 


In addition, corticosteroids can also cause side effects in other organs related to the gastrointestinal system and can increase the risk of developing pancreatitis or fatty liver. 

7. Most frequent infections

People who take at least 20 mg a day of prednisone have a higher risk of developing infections, since treatment with these drugs weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections by fungi, bacteria, viruses, or parasites, which can generate serious conditions. 

8. Alterations in the eyes

The use of corticosteroids can cause changes in the eyes, increasing the risk of developing cataracts in both eyes or increasing intraocular pressure, which increases, in certain cases, the risk of glaucoma, especially in people who have a family history of this disease. 

Also, corticosteroids can cause difficulty seeing or blurred vision, which is why it is recommended to perform an exam to evaluate the health of the eyes and eye pressure regularly while the person is under treatment with these medications. 

9. Mood and sleep disturbances

Corticosteroids can cause mood and sleep disturbances such as irritability, anxiety, euphoria, difficulty sleeping, or insomnia, and, on certain occasions, depression, memory loss, or decreased concentration can also occur. 


In addition, treatment with prednisone doses above 20 mg per day, given for a long period, can cause psychosis. 

Side effects of corticosteroids in pregnancy

Corticosteroids should not be used in pregnancy unless the doctor recommends it after evaluating the relationship between the risks and benefits of the drug.

In the first 3 months of gestation, there is a greater chance that the baby will develop changes in the mouth, such as a cleft palate, that there will be a premature delivery or that the baby will be born with a low weight. 

Side effects corticosteroids in babies and children

The use of corticosteroids in babies and children can cause a delay in growth or osteoporosis, due to the decrease in the absorption of calcium in the intestine, in addition to the development of cataracts and the increase in the number of hairs in the body, especially in arms, legs and back

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