Myths and Facts About Steroids
Last updated: April 2023
Corticosteroids, commonly referred to as "steroids," are a class of drugs used to treat a variety of medical conditions. There are many myths and misunderstandings about steroids, which can lead to confusion about their proper use.1-4
Some people believe that steroids are addictive and that they can only be used for a short period of time. Others believe that they are dangerous and can cause a host of health problems.
The truth is that steroids can be safe when used as prescribed by your doctor. However, these drugs are not without side effects. Knowing the facts about steroids can help you make informed decisions about their use and ensure you use them as prescribed.1-4
Myth: Steroids are harmless
Steroids have a wide range of uses and are generally considered safe when used as directed. Talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of using these drugs before starting treatment. There are some possible risks associated with using steroids, especially at higher doses. They can cause side effects such as:1-4
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of infection
Myth: Steroids have fewer side effects than newer biologic drugs
Biologics are drugs made from living cells. These cells can come from parts of the blood, proteins, viruses, or tissue. The process of making biologics turns these cells into drugs that can prevent, treat, and cure disease.
The side effects of steroids can be just as severe as the side effects of biologic drugs. It is important to talk to your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of using either type of drug before starting treatment.2,5
Myth: Corticosteroids are the same as performance-enhancing steroids
Taking steroids for medical reasons is entirely different than taking steroids to improve athletic performance (anabolic steroids). Corticosteroids are used to treat various conditions, while anabolic steroids can be used to enhance athletic ability. Anabolic steroids are sometimes used illegally and can cause serious health problems.3
Myth: It is easy to take steroids
This is another common myth about steroids. In fact, it can be difficult to take these drugs correctly. It is important to follow the instructions your doctor gives you and to carefully monitor your symptoms. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to talk to your doctor.4
Myth: Once you start taking steroids, you cannot come off of them
Gradually reducing – or tapering – steroids is the best way to come off them, depending on your condition. Tapering your dose will help minimize the risk of withdrawal symptoms. Do not start or stop taking steroids without the instruction of your doctor. Tapering steroids is common and not hard with the guidance of your doctor.4
Myth: Steroids are used only for severe flares
Corticosteroids can be used to prevent autoimmune flares or to treat them when they do occur. Some people with chronic conditions may need to take them on a daily basis to keep their symptoms under control. Talk to your doctor about the best way to use steroids for your condition.2,4
Myth: People with diabetes cannot take steroids
This is another common myth about steroids. In fact, people with diabetes can take steroids, but they need to be careful and monitor their blood sugar levels closely. Talk to your doctor about how to best manage your diabetes while taking steroids.6
Steroids are strong drugs but can be a safe and effective way to treat a variety of health conditions. However, it is important to talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of using these drugs before starting treatment. Some people with chronic conditions may need to take them on a daily basis to keep their symptoms under control. Talk to your doctor about the best way to use corticosteroids for your specific condition.1-4
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