Steroid use has been traced back to the 1930s when research of animal adrenocortical tissue was carried out and the first steroids were extracted. After 10 years of research, first patients with rheumatoid arthritis received treatment. The results of the drugs were astonishing, and it was not long after when steroids became one of the leading medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis. In the 1960s, doctors already knew about the possible side effects and the importance of proper withdrawal. The most common side effects of steroid use are osteoporosis and reduced bone density, cataracts and increased risk of diabetes. However, new research suggests that even short-term use of steroids can have dangerous side effects.

Dangers of short-term steroid use

Steroids are commonly used for the treatment of patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. As many as 60% of these patients take steroids. The University of Michigan has recently revealed that taking steroids just for a week can have significant consequences. The data were obtained from more than 1.5 million people between ages 18 to 64. One in every five patients had used steroids for a short term during a three-year study period.

The patients who used steroids for a short term had a higher risk of breaking bones, blood cloths and life-threatening sepsis. The increased risk of these conditions lasted for up to 90 days after stopping the steroid use. It is now clear that using steroids in short term has more harm than previously thought.

Long-term dangers of steroid use

Although short-term steroid use has side effects, long term use is more harmful to your health. Of course, in some cases, the risks of taking steroids are less significant than the symptoms caused by a disease. However, in some cases, the risks of treatment outweigh the potential benefits. In the previously mentioned study, almost half of the patients received steroids for diseases such as back pain, respiratory infections, and allergies, as well as for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, vasculitis and gout.

Steroids are usually prescribed to treat conditions where there is an inflammatory process involved. However, in many cases, there are other treatment options, which are potentially safer than steroid use. Long term side effects of steroid use include:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Thinning skin
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Diabetes
  • Stretch marks
  • Insomnia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Urinary tract infections

Another major problem with steroid use is steroid withdrawal. Stopping the drug abruptly can cause various adverse effects that in some instances are life threatening. Long-term use of corticosteroids suppresses the natural production of the hormone. When stopping it abruptly, your body will not be able to produce the hormone and it can cause symptoms like:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain and loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle aches
  • Depression
  • Shaking
  • High levels of calcium
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Dehydration

In many cases steroid use can significantly improve your well-being, however, before taking steroids talk to your doctor and see if there are other options you can try, before starting drugs that might have a life altering effects.

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