Some infectious organisms, such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, can remain dormant in a patient for years. Hydrocortisone and other corticosteroids can reactivate dormant infections in these patients and cause serious illness. Patients with dormant TB may require anti-TB medications while undergoing prolonged corticosteroid treatment. Prolonged use of hydrocortisone can depress the ability of body's adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids.
Abruptly stopping hydrocortisone in these individuals can cause symptoms of corticosteroid insufficiency, with accompanying nausea, vomiting, and even shock. Therefore, withdrawal of hydrocortisone is usually accomplished by gradual tapering. Gradually tapering hydrocortisone not only minimizes the symptoms of corticosteroid insufficiency, it also reduces the risk of an abrupt flare of the disease under treatment. The insufficient adrenal gland function may not recover fully for many months after stopping hydrocortisone. These patients need additional hydrocortisone treatment during periods of stress, such as surgery, to avoid symptoms of corticosteroid insufficiency and shock, while the adrenal gland is not responding by producing its own corticosteroid.
Hydrocortisone impairs calcium absorption and new bone formation. Patients on prolonged treatment with hydrocortisone 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.
In rare individuals, destruction of large joints (aseptic necrosis) can occur while undergoing treatment with hydrocortisone or other corticosteroids. These patients experience severe pain in the joints involved, and can require joint replacements. The reason behind such destruction is not clear.
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