Not those kind of Steroids!
Steroids are often ordered by physicians for multiple problems. The problems can be anything from breathing problems to allergic reactions. They are often confused with Anabolic steroids so we are frequently asked if they are going to cause muscle growth.
There are two main types of steroids. Anabolic steroids are a manmade version of testosterone, a male sex hormone. Medically, they are used when there is not enough testosterone produced by the body. Delayed puberty or chronic illness with muscle loss are two examples of medical use. These patients are watched closely for side effects and the minimal effective dose is used.
Unfortunately anabolic steroids are frequently misused for building muscle and stamina, especially in athletes and body builders. They generally use very high doses to get the effect they want, and therefore are prone to very serious side effects. They include liver damage, fluid retention, lower sperm counts, smaller testicles, mood swings, and aggression in men. They can cause baldness, facial hair growth, mood swings and amenorrhea in women. They also can cause stunting of bone growth and height in teenagers. They are often bought on the internet and there is frequently pressure on young athletes to use them to “stay in the game”. Parents of athletes should watch for the above side effects as teenagers especially are frequently taking them without a parent’s knowledge.
Corticosteroids are laboratory produced steroids that work like cortisol that is produced by the adrenal glands in your body. If this is added to the normal cortisol level, it works as an anti-inflammatory in the body, preventing or slowing down the immune system from triggering inflammation. So many disease are either caused by, or result in, inflammation. COPD, Asthma, Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, MS, Eczema are all inflammatory diseases and respond well to steroids. They can be given by pill, injection, inhaler, cream or I.V. The most popular name you will hear is Prednisone but there are many different versions.
These medications also come with side effects and you must weigh the benefits very carefully before agreeing to take them. Again, the side effects are dose related, including the amount of time you are on them. Short term side effects can be hypertension, glaucoma, elevated blood sugars, mood changes and weight gain in the abdomen, neck and a “moon face”. Long term side effects are osteoporosis, diabetes, infections, thin “tissue paper” skin and decrease in natural cortisol production (suppression of the adrenal gland). Delayed healing is very common so any type of injury can be much more serious than it usually would be.
Finally, you should never stop either type of steroids abruptly. It can cause muscle pain, depression, sleep interruptions, fatigue and moodiness. Discontinuing them quickly can also cause certain diseases to rebound and symptoms to return. A physician directed taper is safer and less likely to trigger side effects. Always keep track of how often you have taken steroids in the past year. For example more than three steroid injections to the body can increase the potential for all the problems discussed above. Most prudent physicians try to avoid more than three injections per year, although there can be some variations based on your individual situation or pain condition.
- Waterbrook AL, Balcik BJ, Goshinska AJ. Blood Glucose Levels After Local Musculoskeletal Steroid Injections in Patients With Diabetes Mellitus: A Clinical Review. Sports Health. 2017 Jul/Aug;9(4):372-374. PubMed PMID: 28394710
- Guo JR, Jin XJ, Shen HC, Wang H, Zhou X, Liu XQ, Zhu NN. A Comparison of the Efficacy and Tolerability of the Treatments for Sciatica: A Network Meta-Analysis. Ann Pharmacother. 2017 Jul 1;:1060028017722008. PubMed PMID: 28745066
Last modified: December 11, 2020
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