Steroid Drug Withdrawal

  • Medical Author:
    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.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What tests do health-care professionals use to diagnose steroid withdrawal?

Because the symptoms of steroid withdrawal are varied and nonspecific, health-care professionals may have some difficulty diagnosing this problem. However, the best way to diagnose steroid withdrawal is to have a good history and physical examination from the patient, with emphasis on medications such as steroid usage in the recent past that have been discontinued. The patient can help if they indicate to their doctors they have stopped steroids recently. Other tests that may aid in the diagnosis are the cortisol level, serum calcium level, CBC, electrolyte levels, BUN level, and creatinine level.

What types of doctors treat steroid withdrawal symptoms?

In addition to primary-care physicians, internal-medicine specialists, endocrinologists, addiction specialists, emergency physicians, hospitalists, and hospital-based pharmacists can participate in treating steroid withdrawal.

What is the treatment for steroid withdrawal?

In general, steroid withdrawal is treated by administering steroids to decrease or eliminate withdrawal symptoms. Then, gradually decreasing the amount steroids given so the body can adjust to synthesizing steroids normally. Each individual patient is different so the physicians will take into account the patient's symptoms, steroid type (for example, hormonal steroids can be reduced faster than other steroid medications), and the patient's compliance. The weaning time is highly variable and may take a few weeks to up to a year or so depending on the patient's dependency, the strength and type of steroid administered, and underlying medical problems.

Some patients may require increases in their steroids during withdrawal with stressful conditions such as emergency surgery. Such increases are usually very short-term increases.

What is the prognosis of steroid withdrawal?

The prognosis of steroid withdrawal, if quickly recognized and treated, is usually good. The prognosis begins to decline if the steroid withdrawal goes unrecognized and complications such as electrolyte abnormalities, dehydration, and other signs and symptoms lead to further health problems or if the patient becomes noncompliant with treatment protocols.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2016

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