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Steroids

Find out more about using steroids as a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). 

What steroids are

Steroids are substances made naturally in your body. Doctors use artificial steroids as medicines. Treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) works better when you take steroids with the chemotherapy drugs.

Steroids can be tablets or injections. Prednisolone and dexamethasone are the most common steroid drugs.

Steroid side effects

Because you will not be taking the steroids for very long without a break, you are not likely to have bad side effects from them. But you may notice a few side effects. These can include:

  • increased appetite
  • increased energy and wakefulness
  • indigestion
  • an increased risk of infection
  • mood swings

Steroids can cause water retention if you take them for some time. You may notice some swelling in your hands, feet or eyelids and you may put on weight. This is due to extra fluid in your body.

Steroids irritate the lining of your stomach, so you shouldn't take them on a completely empty stomach. It's best to take them with a meal, but try to at least have a slice of bread or glass of milk.

You might have other tablets to stop the steroids damaging your stomach. These include:

  • ranitidine (Zantac)
  • cimetidine (Tagomet)
  • lansoprazole (Zoton)

Tell your doctor if you get stomach pains after taking steroids.

Your doctor will be looking out for other side effects of your steroids. These are:

  • raised blood pressure
  • sugar in the urine or raised sugar in your blood

Steroid induced diabetes

Having steroid induced diabetes does not mean you are diabetic. Your sugar levels usually go back to normal after you stop taking the steroids. You might test your urine for sugar at home or bring urine samples to the hospital for sugar testing.

Infection

Chemotherapy can lower your resistance to infection, so it is best to avoid people with colds and flu while you are taking steroids and having chemotherapy.

Other side effects

Steroids can also cause mood swings, difficulty sleeping and muscle wasting. The muscle wasting can affect climbing stairs, getting out of a chair and lifting your arms. Talk to your doctor if you have any new symptoms so that they can help you.

Steroid induced psychosis

Steroids can cause a reaction called steroid induced psychosis. People become excited, confused and imagine things that are not true. This can be very frightening. But it is rare and goes away when you stop taking the steroids.

More information

In case of emergencies

It is important for any doctor treating you to know you are taking steroids. So, in case of emergencies, you will have a card about taking steroids that you must carry with you at all times.
Last reviewed: 
12 May 2015
  • Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

    H Inaba, L Greaves and C G Mullighan

    The Lancet, 2013

    Volume 381, Issue 9881

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium

    Accessed 2015

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