Corticosteroids for arthritis are very effective for treating pain and inflammation when they are taken as prescribed. Like any other medication, however, they can cause medical problems and side effects if not monitored by a health care provider. Side effects when taking corticosteroids for arthritis generally depend upon the dosage, and the risk usually increases when large dosages are taken.
Though corticosteroids can help reduce symptoms, other remedies may also be recommended when taking them. These remedies include mild exercise, weight loss to minimize stress on affected joints, dietary supplements, and prescription pain relievers. Applying cold or warm compresses, wearing hand splints, and taking warm baths may also help decrease pain and improve mobility.
Common side effects from taking corticosteroids for arthritis include weight gain and mood swings. Weight gain from these medications are initially caused by fluid retention, however, prolonged use of corticosteroids can increase body fat and cause an increase in appetite. Some people who take corticosteroids for arthritis notice a better mood, while others notice anxiety, depression, or sadness. Insomnia can also occur when taking corticosteroids for arthritis, and those with a history of psychological conditions should consult their health care providers to determine how to cope with these effects.
Other corticosteroid side effects may include delayed wound healing, muscle weakness, and excessive hair growth. Acne, blurred vision, a round facial appearance and the development of osteoporosis may occur as well. Occasionally, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and prominent stretch marks can also occur. Even when side effects occur, the individual should never abruptly discontinue treatment with corticosteroids as this can be dangerous. These medications need to be gradually decreased, over time, under the strict supervision of the health care provider.
Taking corticosteroids while pregnant is sometimes necessary, and is generally considered safe, if monitored carefully. If, however, these medications are taken while breast feeding, the baby might experience the same side effects as those experienced by adults. Medications can pass through breast milk, so women who are nursing may wish to discuss alternative treatment options with their health care providers before taking corticosteroids for arthritis.
Occasionally, corticosteroids can make the symptoms of arthritis worse. This generally occurs when the medication is being decreased or discontinued. Aching joints, bones, and muscles may occur, as may headache, fever, and nausea. These effects are generally temporary and usually do not last for more than a two weeks. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if these effects are the result of the tapering of the medications or if the arthritis is flaring up again.