Almost all of us will need prescription steroids at some point in our lifetime. Steroid cream for a bad rash, oral steroids for an inflammatory reaction or bronchitis, steroid eye drops for ocular disease, steroid injections for joint issues, steroid inhalers for asthma, and even steroid nasal spray for bad allergies.
Steroids like prednisone or cortisone are the anti-inflammatory do-it-all hormone in our bodies. Immune system revved up? Steroids will help. Pain from a swollen joint? Steroids will help. Itchy eyes in the spring? You bet a steroid drop will do the trick.
As with everything, the side effects can be scary. Most of us know that long term steroid use can lead to lots of hormonal side effects—from weight gain, mood changes, acne, and even glaucoma. So many of us try to limit our steroid use. Whether it is just taking a 10 day Medrol dose pack that tapers the steroid, or trying to only use a steroid inhaler or drop when we absolutely need it, we feel better knowing we aren’t on it forever.
A new study published in the British Medical Journal reviewed records of 1.5 million patients over a 2 year period who were prescribed steroids of varying doses and time periods.
They found that those who were on steroids anywhere from a few days up to just one month had four times the risk of a blood infection, twice the risk of a bone fracture, and more than triple the risk of a blood clot! Of course, the risks for all of these side effects increased with higher doses of steroids.
So, we need to realize that even short-term steroid use can have serious consequences. Almost any pill we take can have serious consequences when you come right down to it.
This isn’t to scare anyone, but to emphasize that every drug we take can have consequences far worse than the condition we take it for in the first place!
In many cases steroids are a lifesaver—especially for millions with certain systemic inflammatory conditions. Yet, sometimes a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like Tylenol or Advil may do the trick. Studies like this one should caution us to try to limit steroid use when we can or try these other drugs or remedies first when we can.
Remember: Every action leads to a reaction. Medicine and health is all about weighing risks versus benefits of every action we take!