Lupus Medicines - Steroids

What kind of medicine are steroids?

Some medicines fight pain, heat, and inflammation. They are called anti-inflammatory medicines. Corticosteroids or steroids fight inflammation.

What do steroids do?

Low doses (1 to 10 milligrams per day) of steroids are used to treat pain and swelling in and around your joints. They are also used for rashes, pleurisy or chest pain, or other symptoms of lupus. Steroids are also used for short periods of time when you and your doctor are waiting for another medicine to work. High doses of steroids are only used if your lupus is very bad and hard to control. Your doctor may prescribe steroids when there is serious inflammation in other parts of the body, such as your kidneys or lungs.

How long do steroids take to work?

Steroids work quickly. You should feel better in a few days. Because of this, many patients want to take them all of the time.

How do steroids work?

Steroids stop the chemicals that cause inflammation. If there is less inflammation then there is less pain and swelling.

How do you to take steroids?

  • Most steroids are taken as pills.

  • Take them with food.

  • Do not change the number of pills you take without talking with your doctor.

  • Your body gets used to steroids. Do not stop them quickly. You should slowly cut down on the number of pills you take. Your doctor or nurse will explain how to do this.

  • If you have one very painful joint, tendon or bursa, your doctor may give you a steroid shot (injection) into that area. This will reduce your pain without side effects to your whole body.

  • You should not receive more than 3-4 injections a year into the same areas.

What do you do if you forget to take your steroids?

If you miss a dose of steroids, do not make it up or double your next dose.

What are the side effects of steroids?

The most common side effects are feeling hungry, having an upset stomach, and feeling nervous. Steroids in higher doses (greater than 10 milligrams a day) or taken for longer than a few months can have more side effects. You may put on weight, your muscles and bones may get weak, and your skin may get thinner and bruise more easily. Steroids can also raise your blood pressure, increase blood sugar level, cause cataracts, and change your mood and sleeping habits. Your chances of getting infections may go up if you take steroids.

What do I watch for?

  • Has my pain or lupus symptoms changed?

  • Am I able to do more or less?

  • How do I know if I have side effects?

What do you do if your steroids do not work?

  • If you do not feel better after a few days, call your doctor.

  • Your doctor will want to see you regularly if you are taking high doses of steroids.

  • Let your doctor know if you are planning any surgery. Your steroid dose may have to be changed to prepare for surgery.

  • If you are likely to be on steroids for more than a few months, it is a good idea to wear a medical alert bracelet that says that you take steroids.

Read our easy-to-print PDF version of this fact sheet.

Please note: This information is intended to complement, not replace, the advice and care you receive from medical and health professionals.

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