Steroid Drug Withdrawal

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Steroid withdrawal facts

  • Synthetic cortisone medications (corticosteroids) simulate cortisol, a naturally occurring, anti-inflammatory hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Such drugs (for example, prednisone) have since benefited many, but are not without potential side effects.
  • The two major problems related to continuous steroid treatment are:
    1. drug side effects and
    2. symptoms due to changes in the balance of normal hormone secretion (withdrawal symptoms).
  • The production of corticosteroids is controlled by a "feedback mechanism," involving the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland and brain. known as the "Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis" (HPAA).
  • Using large doses for a few days, or smaller doses for more than two weeks, leads to a prolonged decrease in HPAA function.
  • Steroid use cannot be stopped abruptly; tapering the drug gives the adrenal glands time to return to their normal patterns of secretion.
  • Withdrawal symptoms (weakness, fatigue, decreased appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain) can mimic many other medical problems. Some may be life-threatening.
  • Tapering may not completely prevent withdrawal symptoms; steroid withdrawal may involve many factors, including a true physiological dependence on corticosteroids.
  • Patients should carry a list of all your medications in your wallet to alert medical personnel in case of emergency.
  • Supplementation with corticosteroid medication may be needed during periods of stress (such as surgery), even up to a year after stopping corticosteroid therapy.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/16/2013

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