Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Steroid Medicines: How to Stop Safely
What are steroid medicines?
Steroids are medicines with very strong anti-inflammatory effects. They can reduce inflammation (redness, swelling and soreness). Steroids are helpful for many conditions, such as asthma and arthritis. They come in pills, sprays, creams and ointments. The creams and ointments can help some skin conditions, such as eczema and contact dermatitis.
Are steroid medicines dangerous?
Steroids are very effective and lifesaving medicines, but they can cause side effects if they are taken for a long time. These side effects include thin skin, a higher blood sugar level and weakened bones. Because of these side effects, steroids are usually used only for a short time.
Your body naturally makes steroids all by itself. When you use steroid pills, sprays or creams, your body may stop making its own steroids. When you're under stress--caused by infections or surgery, for example--your body would normally make extra steroids. But if you have been taking steroids for a long time, your body may not be able to make enough steroids in times of stress. At these times, you may have to take more steroid medicine.
What happens when my steroid medicine is reduced?
As your steroid medicine is reduced (tapered), your body must begin to make more steroids on its own. This may take a few weeks or even a few months. While your body is getting used to making its own steroids, you may feel dizzy, lightheaded or tired, or have stomach pain. These problems are sometimes called steroid withdrawal symptoms. If you have any of these symptoms or notice anything unusual while your steroid medicine is being reduced, tell your doctor right away.
How will my steroid medicine be reduced?
The amount of steroids you take is reduced little by little. Your doctor will give you a schedule to follow for taking the medicine. It is very important that you follow this schedule carefully.
If it's time to stop taking steroids after you've been taking them for a long time, your doctor may want to do a simple blood test to see when you can stop the medicine completely. Even when the medicine is stopped, your body may be slow in making the extra steroids that you need in times of stress. At these times, your doctor may want you to continue or restart your steroid medicines for a short time until the stressful time  is over.
What can I do to prevent steroid withdrawal symptoms?