dexamethasone

  • Pharmacy Author:
    Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD

    Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.

  • Medical and Pharmacy Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Get a Grip on Rheumatoid Arthritis

SIDE EFFECTS: Side effects of dexamethasone depend on the dose, the duration and the frequency of administration. Short courses of dexamethasone usually are well tolerated with few and mild side effects. Long term, high dose dexamethasone usually will produce predictable and potentially serious side effects. Whenever possible, the lowest effective dose of dexamethasone should be used for the shortest possible length of time to minimize side effects. Alternate day dosing also can help reduce side effects.

Side effects of dexamethasone and other corticosteroids range from mild annoyances to serious irreversible damage. Side effects include:

Other side effects include:

  • irregular menses,
  • growth retardation in children,
  • convulsions, and
  • psychic disturbances.

Psychic disturbances include:

Prolonged use of dexamethasone can depress the ability of body's adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids. Abruptly stopping dexamethasone in these individuals can cause symptoms of corticosteroid insufficiency, with accompanying nausea, vomiting, and even shock. Therefore, withdrawal of dexamethasone usually is accomplished by gradually reducing the dose. Gradually tapering dexamethasone not only minimizes the symptoms of corticosteroid insufficiency, but also reduces the risk of an abrupt flare of the disease under treatment.

Dexamethasone and other corticosteroids can mask signs of infection and impair the body's natural immune response that is important in fighting infection. Patients on corticosteroids are more susceptible to infections and can develop more serious infections than individuals not receiving corticosteroids. For example, chickenpox and measles viruses can produce serious and even fatal illnesses in patients on high doses of dexamethasone. Live virus vaccines, such as smallpox vaccine, should be avoided in patients taking high doses of dexamethasone, since even vaccine viruses may cause disease in these patients. Some infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, can remain dormant in a patient for years. Dexamethasone and other corticosteroids can reactivate dormant infections. Patients with dormant tuberculosis may require treatment of the TB while undergoing corticosteroid treatment.

By interfering with the patient's immune response, dexamethasone can impede the effectiveness of vaccinations. Dexamethasone can also interfere with the tuberculin (TB) skin test and cause falsely negative results in patients with dormant tuberculosis infection.

Dexamethasone impairs calcium absorption and new bone formation. Patients on prolonged treatment with dexamethasone and other corticosteroids can develop osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fractures. Supplemental calcium and vitamin D are encouraged to slow this process of bone thinning. It has been demonstrated in some groups of patients treated with steroids that the loss of bone may be prevented by treatment with biphosphonate drugs, for example, alendronate (Fosamax).

In rare individuals, destruction of large joints can occur while undergoing treatment with dexamethasone or other corticosteroids. These patients experience severe pain in the involved joints, and can require joint replacements. The reason behind such destruction is not clear.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/29/2016

Quick GuideRheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Pictures Slideshow

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Pictures Slideshow
FDA Logo

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

RxList Logo

Need help identifying pills and medications?

Use the pill identifier tool on RxList.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Arthritis Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors