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What Is the Relationship between Corticosteroids and Depression?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 17, 2024
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Corticosteroids are steroid hormones. These hormones help relieve inflammation, allergy symptoms, asthma, skin conditions and other diseases. Clinical studies show a connection between corticosteroids and depression. Patients taking corticosteroid drugs may experience mild or severe depression, depending on dosage, dosage frequency, other drugs and the patient's own sensitivity to the corticosteroids dose. Depression and mood swings are listed as some of the side effects of corticosteroids.

The body's adrenal glands naturally produce corticosteroids. The hormones are part of the fight or flight responses manufactured by the adrenal cortex. Natural corticosteroids manage the delicate chemical and physiological functions of the body, such as responses by stress, the immune system, the metabolism and more. Scientists have developed synthetic corticosteroid drugs to treat various diseases and their symptoms as well as to provide supplements for people whose corticosteroid count is low.

The correlation between corticosteroids and depression is widely known but not completely understood. As of 2011, scientists have been unable to determine the exact cause and severity of depression of patients on the drug. Some patients experience euphoria, while others suffer mild to severe bouts of depression. Female patients on corticosteroids are more prone to mood swings and depression than male patients. Dosage amounts and duration of the drug regimen do not seem to determine the severity or prolongation of depression, but studies show that depression is usually relieved when the drug dosage is lowered or the regimen is stopped completely.

The physiological side effects of corticosteroids and depression are therefore difficult to predict and treat. Some studies show that genetic abnormalities determine the level of depression, as the position and function of neurotransmitters and imbalances of brain-produced chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are genetic. Stress plays a large part in the correlation between corticosteroids and depression as well. Events that may trigger mood swings or depression, such as the birth of a baby or death of a loved one, are heightened by the drug.

The most common uses of corticosteroids is the treatment of inflammation, particularly rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory diseases of the skin, intestines and respiratory system. This drug is available in cream, aerosol and tablet form. In cream or oral tablet form, betamethasone, hydrocortisone and budesonide treat skin conditions and asthma. Cortisone, dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, prednisolone and prednisone are usually taken in oral form to treat arthritis, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, allergies and lupus.

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