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What are the side effects of steroids?

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com Last updated on Sep 18, 2018.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com

The main short-term side effects of steroids are acne, stomach irritation, and an increased risk of infection. Side effects can be more severe with long-term administration.

Short-term side effects:

Acne

Steroids can increase oil production by sebaceous glands and make them more susceptible to infection. Acne in people who take steroids is most commonly found on the chest but is also seen on the back, shoulders, neck, and face.

Stomach irritation

Steroids can irritate the lining of the stomach by inhibiting prostaglandins – these are substances that help protect the stomach lining. Excessive irritation can lead to stomach ulcers. Oral steroids should be taken with food and other medicines that also irritate the stomach, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), avoided.

Increased risk of infection

Steroids decrease inflammation by suppressing the immune system, which means our immune system is compromised and not as effective at protecting us against infection. Symptoms of an infection may not be as obvious or typical while you are taking steroids.

Other short-term side effects

Blurred vision and easy bruising have been reported with steroid use. They may also cause difficulty sleeping, especially if they are taken too late in the afternoon/evening.

Long-term side effects:

If steroids are taken daily, for long periods of time, they can cause adrenal gland suppression. This is when your body stops producing cortisol by itself.

Prolonged use has also been associated with cataracts and glaucoma, immunosuppression, muscle wasting, bone changes, fluid shifts, and personality changes. High blood pressure, an increased appetite leading to weight gain, menstrual irregularities and an increased growth of body hair (particularly facial hair in women) has also been reported. Skin discoloration, thinning, and easy bruising can occur after topical steroids are applied repeatedly to the skin.

Steroids may also precipitate sudden mood swings, cause fluid retention, worsen diabetes, and lead to a condition known as Cushing syndrome; a condition characterized by a moon face and a buffalo hump (a large fat deposit between the shoulders).

Steroids are drugs that reduce inflammation by mimicking the hormone cortisol that is produced by our adrenal gland. Steroids may also be called corticosteroids or cortical steroids. There are three main types: mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and sex hormones.

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