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Side effects of steroids (dexamethasone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone)

Find out about the side effects of taking steroids.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects so they can help you manage them. Your nurse will give you a contact number to ring if you have any questions or problems. If in doubt, call them.

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if any of your side effects get severe or if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C.

The side effects may be different if you are having steroids with other medicines.

Common side effects

Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 10 people (10%). You might have one or more of them.

Signs of an infection include headaches, aching muscles, a cough, a sore throat, pain passing urine, or feeling cold and shivery.

Contact your treatment centre straight away if you have any of these signs or if your temperature goes above 37.5C. Severe infections can be life threatening.

You have antibiotics if you develop an infection. You might have them as tablets or as injections into the bloodstream (intravenously). To have them into your bloodstream you need to go into hospital.

You have regular blood and urine tests to check this. If you have diabetes you may need to check your blood sugar levels more often than usual. 

You might need to adjust your tablets or insulin dose if you are diabetic.

Swelling of hands and feet is due to fluid build up. This is called oedema. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any swelling.

Avoid standing for long periods of time and put your feet up when you are sitting down if you have swollen feet or ankles. 

You might feel more anxious and emotional than usual when you take steroids. You may also feel tired and sad for a while after you stop taking them. Let your doctor know if you or any family members have ever had depression or manic depression (bipolar disorder). 

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you’re having problems sleeping. It can help to change a few things about when and where you sleep.

Tips

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Make sure the temperature is right.
  • Spend time relaxing before you go to bed - have a bath, read or listen to music.
  • Do some light exercise each day to help tire yourself out.
  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks) after early afternoon.
  • Have a light snack before you go to bed to stop hunger waking you up.

Take your tablets after a meal or with milk as they can irritate your stomach.

Steroids can increase your appetite. Feeling hungrier can make it difficult to keep your weight down. Your appetite will go back to normal when you stop steroids - but some people need to diet to lose the extra weight.

Talk to your nurse or your dietitian about how to safely control your weight.

Rare side effects

Each of these effects happens in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them.

You might have weaker bones due to bone loss (osteoporosis). 

You might have eye problems including cataracts, infections and glaucoma. 

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any problems with your eyes. They can give you eye drops to help.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have headaches, nose bleeds, blurred or double vision or shortness of breath. Your nurse checks your blood pressure regularly. 

You might develop:

  • a swollen or puffy face
  • dark marks
  • acne
  • facial hair

This can be quite upsetting. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any of these side effects.

Your legs may feel weaker and walking or climbing stairs may be more difficult. You may have aching muscles for a short while after stopping treatment.

About steroids

Stopping steroid treatment

Take your steroids exactly as your doctor has told you.

When you take steroid tablets, the higher amounts in your bloodstream stop your body from making its own supply.

Never just stop taking your tablets. You must cut them down gradually with help and guidance from your doctor.

More information about this treatment

We haven't listed all the very rare side effects of this treatment. For further information see the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have that isn’t listed here to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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