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Corticosteroids are medications used to reduce inflammation in affected areas of the body. Their function is to reduce redness, itching, swelling and reactions caused by allergies.

Corticosteroids are used to help manage numerous conditions from skin rashes and allergies, to arthritis and asthma.

The human body produces cortisol naturally, which is a stress hormone, that is necessary to maintain good health. In cases where the body doesn't produce this hormone, doctors then prescribe corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids are potent medications and even though they are helpful when treating and managing certain conditions, they can produce serious side-effects if they are used incorrectly or for long periods of time. These medications are only available with a doctor's prescription.

Importance of Diet

If corticosteroids are being prescribed to be used for a long time, then your doctor will suggest the following regarding your diet:

  • Make sure you look after your calorie intake in order to prevent weight gain.
  • Follow a diet that is low in salt and/or rich in potassium.
  • Extra protein should be added to your diet.

If you are already on a special diet, then your doctor should be informed about this.

Proper use

Instructions to patients who are taking corticosteroids orally include the following:

  • This medication should be taken with food to prevent increased acid production by the stomach.
  • Increased acid production will be more likely to occur if you consume alcohol. Therefore, you should not be drinking alcoholic beverages while taking this medication.
Corticosteroids should be taken as directed by the patient's doctor. The chances of experiencing side-effects will increase if the medication is taken in larger doses or for a period longer of time than intended by your doctor.

Precautions

Patients taking corticosteroids for long periods of time should be aware of the following precautions:

  • Doctors may prescribe bisphosphonates (such as Alendronate or risedronate) in order to prevent and manage any bone-related issues while taking corticosteroids.
  • You should be referred to have your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) before starting with corticosteroids and later during your treatment as well.

In the following situations, it's important to let the treating doctor know that you are using corticosteroid medication:

  • Before you are scheduled to have any skin tests done.
  • If you are going to receive emergency treatment or any surgery, including dental procedures.
  • If you have a serious infection or sustain an injury.
Close contact should be avoided with anyone who has been diagnosed with measles or chickenpox, especially children. Also, after you stop using the medication, you shouldn't receive any vaccines without discussing it with your doctor first. Close contact should also be avoided with other people at work or school who have recently received the oral polio vaccine, as this virus can be spread to you.

For patients who are having corticosteroids injected into their joints, the following should be noted:

  • You should watch out and not apply too much strain or stress on the limb of the injected joint, even if there's relief of symptoms.
  • If swelling or redness occurs and worsens at the injection site, then you should consult with your doctor.
Regarding diabetic patients using corticosteroids, it's very important to remember that these medications can elevate your blood glucose levels. This will happen for the duration of the course of the medication, and should begin to normalize once the therapy is completed. If your glucose levels are still elevated after the treatment with corticosteroids is done, then you need to consult with your doctor.

Side-effects

Corticosteroids cause side-effects that tend to resolve on their own, as the body gets used to the medication, but there are some that require medical attention. Inquire with your doctor if any of the following side effects are bothersome, continue or if you have any questions regarding these issues:

  • Indigestion.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Loss of appetite, with triamcinolone only.
  • Restlessness or nervousness.
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns.
  • Thinning of the skin, regarding topical medications.
  • Blurred or decreased vision.
Corticosteroids can impair your immune system, which means that you can become susceptible to contracting other infections. It can also be more difficult to treat an infection if you are using long-term corticosteroid therapy. Consult with your doctor if you are using corticosteroids for a long period and you start complaining of symptoms of a possible infection such as a fever, sore throat, coughing or sneezing. 

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