Steroids, also known as glucocorticoids, are medicines related to the human hormone cortisol. These drugs, including cortisone, hydrocortisone or prednisolone, are used to treat inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, dermatitis and systemic lupus erythematosus. The commonly prescribed doses result in blood levels greater than those normally found in the body. This accounts for their beneficial as well as harmful side effects.
Gastrointestinal side effects are relatively common in people receiving steroid shots. Nausea, vomiting and indigestion may all be seen. An increase in appetite is frequently noted as well.
Headache and Emotional Reactions
Central nervous system effects such as headache, dizziness, light headedness and insomnia may be experienced by patients who are administered glucocorticoids by injection. Mood swings and anxiety are also possible.
One systemic side effect of steroid shots is immune suppression. The anti-inflammatory effect of these drugs overlaps with inhibition of the immune system, making the user more prone to infection by bacteria, viruses and yeast. Thrush, a yeast infection of the mucosa of the mouth, is a common occurrence in those receiving steroid shots.
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Another important adverse reaction to this group of medicines is weakening of the bones, a condition termed corticosteroid induced osteoporosis, by Family Practice Notebook.com. The drugs disrupt the normal metabolism of calcium leading to less dense bone structure. This osteoporosis may lead to fractures of the hip, spine or wrist in long-term users.
The endocrine effect of glucocorticoids may lead to diabetes. In addition, the administration of exogenous steroids blunts the body's ability to react to stress by releasing its own stress hormone, cortisol. This risk is greatest in people on long-term steroids who undergo surgery or serious illness. The adrenal glands stop producing cortisol due to the supply already present, so when stress occurs, they are unable to meet the increased demand.
Skin effects such as easy bruising, acne, stretch marks, thin skin and poor healing of wounds are well known steroid side effects. Increased sweating may be seen, as well as increased hair growth, especially on the faces of women.
Steroid shots cause the body to hold on to sodium and lose potassium. The net effect of this is to retain fluid. This may lead to edema, or swelling, especially of the legs where gravity promotes pooling of fluid. This increase of body fluid may lead to elevated blood pressure or congestive heart failure.
Increases in weight may be seen as side effects in those who are administered steroid shots. A portion of this may be attributable to the fluid retention. In addition, fat tends to be deposited in the cheeks, a condition termed "moon facies," and between the shoulder blades, called a "buffalo hump." Fat tissue also tends to accumulate around the central abdomen. These changes give people taking steroid shots a unique and characteristic appearance.
Dr. Shaun Thompson has more than 10 years experience practicing rural family medicine. He has been writing freelance since 2008 and has had articles published on various health and fitness websites. He earned a biology degree at the University of Denver in 1991 and his medical doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1995.