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Corticosteroids Side Effects: Types And More


Also referred to as steroids, corticosteroids refer to a certain type of anti-inflammatory drug.

Generally, these drugs may be used to treat a plethora of conditions like-

  • Rheumatologic diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis, and rashes
  • Asthma
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Though they resemble cortisol, a hormone that may be produced by the adrenal glands in your body, they are man-made drugs.

Cortisol produced by your adrenal glands performs an extensive array of biological processes like regulating your stress, immune response, and metabolism.

However, Corticosteroids are synthetic drugs that resemble cortisol and perform myriad functions.

Say, for example, they could help to lower inflammation in your body by reducing the quantities of certain chemicals produced in the body.

However, at higher doses, the Corticosteroids even reduce the activity of your immune system and hence proffer certain side effects.

But still, they have been used by health care providers for many years in different forms like creams, inhalers, or nasal sprays.

Some corticosteroids might even be available in the form of over-the-counter medications.

Though they work quickly to treat most of the conditions, they could have certain long-lasting side effects as well.

So, let us know the different types of Corticosteroids, their side effects, and how they could affect different parts of your body.

Types Of Corticosteroids And Their Side Effects

Corticosteroids are available[1] in different types. The four most common kinds of Corticosteroids which you could consume are explained below.

Knowing the different kinds of corticosteroids will help you to know how they affect the different parts of the body and hence what side effects they could cause.

  1. Oral

    As the name itself suggests, oral corticosteroids are the steroids that you could consume by mouth, like liquid and tablets.

    These kinds of corticosteroids have been available for several decades, and some of the most popular oral Corticosteroids may include-

    The oral Corticosteroids taken by mouth can be easily absorbed into your bloodstream.

    Moreover, once they get absorbed, they can quickly help to affect all the different organs of your body and hence perform their required function.

    Generally, oral Corticosteroids might be consumed by people for issues like inflammatory problems, allergic reactions, flare-ups of gout, or chest infections.

    However, since oral corticosteroids are likely to affect your entire body, they may cause the most significant[4] side effects.

    The side effects depend on the dose of the medication you receive. Some of the short-term side effects of oral corticosteroids are mentioned below-

    • High blood pressure
    • Issues related to memory behavior, mood swings, and other psychological effects like confusion.
    • Weight gain along with fat deposits in different areas of your body like the face, the back of the neck, and the abdomen.
    • Swelling in the lower legs due to fluid retention.
    • Bloated and upset stomach.

    However, if you consume oral corticosteroids for a longer duration, then you could experience other side effects like-

    • An amplified risk of different infections especially bacterial, viral, or fungal infections.
    • High blood pressure, could trigger your diabetes.
    • Slower wound healing and thin skin.
    • A round or moon face.
    • Decreased production of adrenal gland hormones could result in different symptoms like muscle weakness, nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
    • An amplified risk[5] of osteoporosis and fractures.
    • Clouding of the lens either in one or both eyes.
    • The risk[6] of glaucoma.
  2. Inhaled

    The inhaled corticosteroids are found in inhalers and they could be used to treat various lung problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma.

    Due to this, they may generally be used by people in their day-to-day lives.

    Although, this research[7] suggests that doctors should always stay alert and look out for any detrimental effects it may cause to the patients.

    Researches show that consuming corticosteroids in the form of an inhaler may cause different side effects like-

    • Altering the levels of different stress hormones in your body.
    • Slowing the growth in children.
    • Raising the blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes
    • Weakening your bones
    • Fungal infection[8] in the mouth.
    • Amplifying your risk of different lung infections like pneumonia.
    • Hoarseness.

    The major reason behind the side effects of the inhaled corticosteroids could be because when you inhale these corticosteroids, some of the drugs could deposit in your mouth and throat instead of going to the lungs.

    However, you could lessen the severity of the side effects of inhaled corticosteroids by rinsing your mouth with water each time you inhale the medication.

  3. Topical

    Topical corticosteroids are the most commonly available corticosteroids in the market because they could easily be applied to your skin.

    They may be used to treat different skin issues for short periods, like severe psoriasis or itchy mosquito bites.

    The functioning[9] of topical cortical steroids might be the same as oral steroids because once they are absorbed from your skin into the body, they could affect all the other organs.

    When you apply a corticosteroid directly to your skin, it is absorbed by the bloodstream and functions in the different areas of the body.

    However, different factors like potency, length of use, age of the patient, the severity of the damage, and application site could affect the absorption power of the corticosteroid you are using.

    People who are more than 65 years old might be able to absorb oral topical corticosteroids better when compared to others.

    Moreover, if your skin has more cuts and is more injured then corticosteroids can be better absorbed into your bloodstream.

    Other than this, delicate application sites like armpits or face might better absorb the corticosteroids.

    At the same time, the longer you apply these medications, the more they will be absorbed into your bloodstream.

    However, the thing you need to pay heed to here is that if the topical corticosteroids are absorbed more in your bloodstream then they could have an amplified risk for the different side effects.

    The major side effects of topical corticosteroids could include[10] acne, red skin lesions, and thinning of the skin.

  4. Nasal

    Nasal corticosteroids have been available in the market for the past 30 years.

    However, these corticosteroids have a local effect, and the nasal sprays could allow just a small amount of the cortical steroids to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

    But the advantage here is that since less of the medication is absorbed into your bloodstream, it will have a local effect and hence, there will be reduced side effects or risks.

    The different functioning of the nasal corticosteroids could include[11] helping to relieve nose inflammation and sinuses, watery eyes, etc.

  5. Injecting Corticosteroids

    If you use injected corticosteroids then you could even see some temporary side effects near the site of the injection.

    These side effects might include[12] thinning of the skin, intense pain, and loss of color in the skin.

    Other signs and symptoms of these side effects include high blood sugar, insomnia, facial flushing, and so on.

    Due to this, the doctor may usually limit the number of corticosteroid injections for a patient to three or four in a single year.

Other Side Effects Of Corticosteroids

Other than these side effects, you could even experience other signs and symptoms with an elongated use of corticosteroids. Let’s have a look at them.

  • Atherosclerosis

    The continuous usage of corticosteroids could amplify the risk[13] of hardening your arteries. This, in turn, could further increase your risk of different heart diseases.

    However, the risk[14] of Atherosclerosis might be significant if you consume corticosteroids for more than a year in high dosage.

    The only thing that could help to reduce the risk of this side effect is to opt for a low cholesterol diet.

    Moreover, if you observe any symptoms of heart issues like chest pain, you should immediately consult your healthcare provider.

  • Insomnia

    Another side effect of corticosteroids could be[15] insomnia. Moreover, insomnia can be more profound if you consume your corticosteroids in the evening.

    The only tip here could be to work with your physician to consume the entire dose of your medication in the morning.

  • Gastrointestinal Issues

    The corticosteroids could even enhance your risk of developing[16] certain gastrointestinal issues like developing ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding.

    These issues could be more profound when you consume corticosteroids along with different non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.

    You may reduce the severity of this side effect by consuming your Steroid medication after a full meal or along with antacids that could help to reduce the irritation in your stomach.

  • Steroid Withdrawal Syndrome

    This side effect could be prominent[17] if you consume different anti-inflammatory steroids for a longer period and then suddenly withdraw from their consumption.

    This rapid withdrawal could incentivize your adrenal gland to slow down its production of the steroid hormone.

    The major reason behind this may be because regular consumption of anti-inflammatory steroids for a longer duration could suppress your pituitary gland and hypothalamus.

    If you didn’t already know, both of these glands are involved in stimulating your adrenal gland to produce cortisol.

    So the rapid withdrawal of the corticosteroids could lead to a syndrome that may further result in different symptoms like fever, joint pain, fatigue, muscle tenderness, etc.

    Moreover, even with the slower withdrawal of the corticosteroids, you could experience these symptoms, but in a milder form.

    So if you observe any of these symptoms, you should discuss them immediately with your doctor.

    Also, aim to slowly decrease the consumption of corticosteroids to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

  • Aseptic Necrosis

    Also referred to as vascular necrosis or osteonecrosis, Aseptic necrosis could be a common side effect of consuming[18] higher doses of corticosteroids for long periods.

    Under this condition[19], your bones might get damaged and it could be most prominent in the hip joint.

Let Us Wrap It Up!

Thus, these are the different side effects of corticosteroids. So, if you are using these medications, then you may aim at stopping their consumption.

However, stopping them abruptly could be a bad idea because it could trigger different symptoms of depression, restlessness, mood swings, achy muscles, and so on.

So it might always be advisable to slow down their consumption at a safer rate by talking to your healthcare provider. Good luck!


Working4Health prefers using primary and verified references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and our primary references include peer-reviewed research, academic, and medical institution studies.

  1. Alexander Hodgens; Tariq Sharman. Corticosteroids Last Update: May 8, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554612/
  2. Donavon B. Johnson; Michael J. Lopez; Brendan Kelley. Dexamethasone Last Update: May 15, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482130/
  3. Prednisone Last Revised – 03/15/2020 Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601102.html
  4. Muhammad Yasir; Amandeep Goyal; Sidharth Sonthalia. Corticosteroid Adverse Effects Last Update: July 4, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531462/
  5. Karine Briot and Christian Roux Glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis RMD Open. 2015; 1(1): e000014.Published online 2015 Apr 8. doi: 10.1136/rmdopen-2014-000014
  6. Sonia Phulke, Sushmita Kaushik, Savleen Kaur, et al. Steroid-induced Glaucoma: An Avoidable Irreversible Blindness J Curr Glaucoma Pract. 2017 May-Aug; 11(2): 67–72.Published online 2017 Aug 5. doi: 10.5005/jp-journals-l0028-1226
  7. G R Sethi, Kamal Kumar Singhal Pulmonary diseases and corticosteroids ndian J Pediatr. 2008 Oct;75(10):1045-56. doi: 10.1007/s12098-008-0209-0. Epub 2008 Nov 21. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19023529/
  8. Medications that Weaken Your Immune System and Fungal Infections Page last reviewed: December 17, 2020 Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/infections/immune-system.html
  9. Sarah Gabros; Trevor A. Nessel; Patrick M. Zito. Topical Corticosteroids Last Update: July 11, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532940/
  10. Rohini Sharma, Sameer Abrol, and Mashqoor Wani Misuse of topical corticosteroids on facial skin. A study of 200 patients. J Dermatol Case Rep. 2017 Mar 31; 11(1): 5–8.Published online 2017 Mar 31. doi: 10.3315/jdcr.2017.1240
  11. Nasal corticosteroid sprays Review Date 10/30/2021 Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000404.htm
  12. Sun-Kyung Park, Yun Suk Choi, and Hyun-Jung Kim Hypopigmentation and subcutaneous fat, muscle atrophy after local corticosteroid injection Korean J Anesthesiol. 2013 Dec; 65(6 Suppl): S59–S61.Published online 2013 Dec 26. doi: 10.4097/kjae.2013.65.6S.S59
  13. Clare MacLeod, Patrick W. F. Hadoke, and Mark Nixon Glucocorticoids: Fuelling the Fire of Atherosclerosis or Therapeutic Extinguishers? Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jul; 22(14): 7622.Published online 2021 Jul 16. doi: 10.3390/ijms22147622
  14. Roma Pahwa; Ishwarlal Jialal. Atherosclerosis Last Update: June 19, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507799/
  15. Jennifer L. Cole Steroid-Induced Sleep Disturbance and Delirium: A Focused Review for Critically Ill Patients Fed Pract. 2020 Jun; 37(6): 260–267.
  16. Sigrid Narum, Tone Westergren, and Marianne Klemp Corticosteroids and risk of gastrointestinal bleeding: a systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ Open. 2014; 4(5): e004587.Published online 2014 May 15. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004587
  17. Topical corticosteroids and withdrawal reactions Published 15 September 2021 Available from: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/topical-corticosteroids-and-withdrawal-reactions
  18. KL Chan and CC Mok Glucocorticoid-Induced Avascular Bone Necrosis: Diagnosis and Management Open Orthop J. 2012; 6: 449–457.Published online 2012 Oct 5. doi: 10.2174/1874325001206010449
  19. Alexander H. Matthews; Donald D. Davis; Michael J. Fish, et al. Avascular Necrosis Last Update: April 16, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537007/

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