14 Long Term Effects of Steroid Use
Glucocorticoids, corticosteroids or simply steroids are administered for treating multiple conditions like eczema, arthritis, asthma, lupus, etc. These steroids are different from the ones which are used for building muscles. If these medications are used for a long duration, they can have many side effects. Do you know what are the long term effects of steroid use? Some possible anti-effects of long-term use of steroids are:
- Increased Risk of Infection with Long Term Steroid Use: Long term steroid use negatively affects the immune system and makes it considerably weak. This results in making the individual more susceptible to infections. For staying protected from diseases like flu, chicken pox, etc, it is advisable for people on steroids to take annual vaccination against these diseases.
- Increase in Weight with Long Term Steroid Use: Steroids impact the metabolism of the individual and increases their appetite and fatty deposits in their abdominal area. While taking steroids, one should be extremely watchful about their calorie intake and should exercise regularly too. Weight gain generally reverses in a span of 6 months to a year after stopping the steroids.
Increased Blood Pressure & Fluid Retention with Long Term Steroid Use: The balance of sodium, water and other electrolytes in the body is regulated by the hormone called cortisol. Intake of steroid upsets this balance leading to fluid retention and increase in blood pressure. Consuming a low-salt diet is recommended for such people. In case swelling appears in their ankles, they should resort to prescribed diuretics.
- Moon-Shaped Face with Long Term Steroid Use: Long term intake of steroids pumps up fluid retention and weight gain as a result of which the individual’s face becomes “moon-shaped.” However, this is a temporary side effect, which fades away once steroid usage is stopped.
- Hardening of the Arteries (Atherosclerosis) with Long Term Steroid Use: Using steroids for a year or even longer increases the speed at which the individual can develop atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is characterised by hardening of the arteries which results in higher risk of cardiac diseases. For this reason, individuals who take steroids are advised to exercise regularly and consume a low-cholesterol and low-fat diet.
Dermal Issues with Long Term Steroid Use: Skin thinning is a common side effect of prolonged steroid use. Due to this, people on long term steroid intake get bruised easily and the torn skin takes longer than normal to heal. This generally occurs in the areas of skin, which get maximum sun exposure. Steroids also increase the risk of stretch marks, skin infection and loss of skin colour in these individuals.
- Increased Blood Sugar Levels with Long Term Steroid Use: The glucose or sugar level in the blood is regulated and balanced by the cortisol hormone. Steroids can disturb this balance and cause diabetes. Steroid users should keep a regular check on their blood sugar levels and if already suffering from diabetes, these people must remain under special expert monitoring.
- Mood Changes with Long Term Steroid Use: Individuals taking a steroidal dosage of 30 mg or above may experience sudden mood changes. Some may get a happy feeling and some may start feeling depressed, while there are others who may get anxious or irritable. Children particularly may display high tantrums and become overactive. The doctor, in such situations, may decrease the dosage of the steroid or prescribe another medication to control mood changes.
- Insomnia with Long Term Steroid Use: Difficulty in falling asleep is experienced by steroid users, especially if they take the steroids dose in the evening. The doctor, in this case, may adjust the individual’s schedule of taking steroids in order to avoid the evening dose. Practicing healthy sleep hygiene, like going to bed at the same time every night in a dark, cool and noise-free room, is also recommended for coping with insomnia.
- Bleeding & Gastrointestinal Ulcers with Long Term Steroid Use: A spike in the risk of developing duodenal or stomach ulcer and bleeding also results from the long-term use of steroids. This happens especially if the individual also takes aspirins and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Intake of steroids post meal has proven to be effective in reducing irritation.
- Decreased Ability To Respond To Physical Stress with Long Term Steroid Use: Using steroids for more than 2 weeks can affect the functioning of the adrenal glands and alter their reaction to physical stress like surgery, serious illness, etc. This implies that the individual’s body may be unable to cope with these situations, which may in turn result in side effects like fall in blood pressure, etc. Additional steroids may need to be administered during this period to tackle these side effects.
Bone Thinning with Long Term Steroid Use: The density of the bones is reduced as a result of long term consumption of steroids. This therefore increases the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures in such individuals. So people who use steroids are advised to increase their dietary intake of calcium and also have vitamin D and calcium supplements to keep these bone issues at bay. Weight-bearing exercises like walking and running can also help these individuals in improving their balance and reducing their risk of falls. People consuming steroids are advised to undergo a bone density test to monitor the effect of the steroids on their bone.
- Eye Problems with Long Term Steroid Use: Steroids can cause or worsen glaucoma or cataracts and may also result in temporary blurred vision. If an individual experiences any eye problems while on steroids, then they should seek immediate medical attention.
- Cushing’s Syndrome with Long Term Steroid Use: Appearance of symptoms like puffy face, dark dermal patches, acne, and facial hair in women when taking steroids can indicate Cushing’s syndrome. Other symptoms like reduced fertility, irregular menstruation, muscle weakness in the thighs and shoulders, and destruction of the bones, especially the hips are also indicators of the same. Intake of steroids in the morning can decrease these symptoms.
If an individual has been using steroids for more than 2 weeks, it is vital for them to adhere to their doctor’s advice for gradually decreasing their use of the medication. A sudden stop of steroid usage can trigger symptoms like joint ache, muscle stiffness and tenderness, fatigue and fever. These symptoms can be worse than the side effects which made the individual stop the steroids in the first place.