Although steroids are produced naturally by the body, steroid medications can cause unwanted side effects. Studies suggest around one in two people taking steroids experience side effects. Side effects can be minimized by using the lowest effective dose of steroids for the minimum period, and sometimes by taking the medication in the morning.

The side effects of steroids can be divided into three main categories. Early effects due to the body being exposed to higher than natural levels of steroids; effects due to prolonged use; and effects due to coming off steroids.

  • Early effects include insomnia, cosmetic effects (acne, moon face, growth of facial hair, and stretch marks), retention of salt (which can lead to ankle swelling and raised blood pressure), mood disturbance, indigestion and glucose intolerance

  • Effects due to long term use include increased susceptibility to infections, appetite stimulation (which can cause weight gain), cataracts, osteoporosis, problems with blood supply to the top of the thigh bone, and myopathy (muscle weakness)

  • Effects due to coming off steroids include adrenal insufficiency (where your body is not producing enough steroids). Here symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, headache, joint pains, dizziness and fever

  • In babies, children and adolescents steroids can affect growth. Studies also suggest around one in 11 IBD patients are allergic to one or more steroid medications