Immunosuppressant Effects/Increased Susceptibility to Infections: Corticosteroids may increase susceptibility to infection, may mask some signs of infection, and new infections may appear during their use. There may be decreased resistance and inability to localize infection when corticosteroids are used. Infections with any pathogen including viral, bacterial, fungal, protozoan or helminthic organisms, in any location in the body, may be associated with the use of corticosteroids alone or in combination with other immunosuppressive agents that affect cellular or humoral immunity or neutrophil function. These infections may be mild, but can be severe and at times fatal. With increasing doses of corticosteroids, the rate of occurrence of infectious complications increases.
Persons who are on drugs which suppress the immune system are more susceptible to infections than healthy individuals. Chicken pox and measles eg, can have a more serious or even fatal course in non-immune children or adults on corticosteroids.
Administration of live or live, attenuated vaccines is contraindicated in patients receiving immunosuppressive doses of corticosteroids. Killed or inactivated vaccines may be administered to patients receiving immunosuppressive doses of corticosteroids. However, the response to such vaccines may be diminished. Indicated immunization procedures may be undertaken in patients receiving non-immunosuppressive doses of corticosteroids.
The use of corticosteroids in active tuberculosis should be restricted to those cases of fulminating or disseminated tuberculosis in which the corticosteroid is used for the management of the disease in conjunction with appropriate anti-tuberculosis regimen.
If corticosteroids are indicated in patients with latent tuberculosis or tuberculin reactivity, close observation is necessary as reactivation of the disease may occur. During prolonged corticosteroid therapy, these patients should receive chemoprophylaxis.
Kaposi's sarcoma has been reported to occur in patients receiving corticosteroid therapy. Discontinuation of corticosteroids may result in clinical remission.
The role of corticosteroids in septic shock has been controversial, with early studies reporting both beneficial and detrimental effects. More recently, supplemental corticosteroids have been suggested to be beneficial in patients with established septic shock who exhibit adrenal insufficiency. However, their routine use in septic shock is not recommended. A systematic review of short-course, high-dose corticosteroids did not support their use. However, meta-analyses and a review suggest that longer courses (5-11 days) of low-dose corticosteroids might reduce mortality, especially in patients with vasopressor-dependent septic shock.
Immune System Effects: Allergic reactions may occur. Because rare instances of skin reactions and anaphylactic/anaphylactoid reactions have occurred in patients receiving corticosteroid therapy, appropriate precautionary measures should be taken prior to administration, especially when the patient has a history of allergy to any drug.
Endocrine Effects: In patients on corticosteroid therapy subjected to unusual stress, increased dosage of rapidly acting corticosteroids before, during and after the stressful situation is indicated.
Pharmacologic doses of corticosteroids administered for prolonged periods may result in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) suppression (secondary adrenocortical insufficiency). The degree and duration of adrenocortical insufficiency produced is variable among patients and depends on the dose, frequency, time of administration and duration of glucocorticoid therapy. This effect may be minimized by use of alternate-day therapy.
In addition, acute adrenal insufficiency leading to a fatal outcome may occur if glucocorticoids are withdrawn abruptly.
Drug-induced secondary adrenocortical insufficiency may therefore, be minimized by gradual reduction of dosage. This type of relative insufficiency may persist for months after discontinuation of therapy; therefore, in any situation of stress occurring during that period, hormone therapy should be reinstituted.
A steroid "withdrawal syndrome" seemingly unrelated to adrenocortical insufficiency, may also occur following abrupt discontinuance of glucocorticoids. This syndrome includes symptoms eg, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, headache, fever, joint pain, desquamation, myalgia, weight loss, and/or hypotension. These effects are thought to be due to the sudden change in glucocorticoid concentration rather than to low corticosteroid levels.
Because glucocorticoids can produce or aggravate Cushing's syndrome, glucocorticoids should be avoided in patients with Cushing's disease.
There is an enhanced effect of corticosteroids on patients with hypothyroidism.
Metabolism and Nutrition: Corticosteroids, including methylprednisolone, can increase blood glucose, worsen preexisting diabetes and predispose those on long-term corticosteroid therapy to diabetes mellitus.
Psychiatric Effects: Psychic derangements may appear when corticosteroids are used, ranging from euphoria, insomnia, mood swings, personality changes, and severe depression to frank psychotic manifestations. Also, existing emotional instability or psychotic tendencies may be aggravated by corticosteroids.
Potentially severe psychiatric adverse reactions may occur with systemic steroids. Symptoms typically emerge within a few days or weeks of starting treatment. Most reactions recover after either dose reduction or withdrawal, although specific treatment may be necessary. Psychological effects have been reported upon withdrawal of corticosteroids; the frequency is unknown. Patients/caregivers should be encouraged to seek medical attention if psychological symptoms develop in the patient, especially if depressed mood or suicidal ideation is suspected. Patients/caregivers should be alert to possible psychiatric disturbances that may occur either during or immediately after dose tapering/withdrawal of systemic steroids.
Nervous System Effects: Corticosteroids should be used with caution in patients with seizure disorders.
Corticosteroids should be used with caution in patients with myasthenia gravis (see Musculoskeletal Effects as follows).
Although controlled clinical trials have shown corticosteroids to be effective in speeding the resolution of acute exacerbations of multiple sclerosis, they do not show that corticosteroids affect the ultimate outcome or natural history of the disease. The studies do show that relatively high doses of corticosteroids are necessary to demonstrate a significant effect.
Severe medical events have been reported in association with the intrathecal/epidural routes of administration (see Adverse Reactions).
There have been reports of epidural lipomatosis in patients taking corticosteroids, typically with long-term use at high doses.
Ocular Effects: Corticosteroids should be used cautiously in patients with ocular herpes simplex because of possible corneal perforation.
Prolonged use of corticosteroids may produce posterior subcapsular cataracts and nuclear cataracts (particularly in children), exophthalmos or increased intraocular pressure (IOP), which may result in glaucoma with possible damage to the optic nerves. Establishment of secondary fungal and viral infections of the eye may also be enhanced in patients receiving glucocorticoids.
Corticosteroid therapy has been associated with central serous chorioretinopathy, which may lead to retinal detachment.
Cardiac Effects: Adverse effects of glucocorticoids on the cardiovascular system eg, dyslipidemia and hypertension, may predispose treated patients with existing cardiovascular risk factors to additional cardiovascular effects, if high doses and prolonged courses are used. Accordingly, corticosteroids should be employed judiciously in such patients and attention should be paid to risk modification and additional cardiac monitoring if needed. Low dose and alternate day therapy may reduce the incidence of complications in corticosteroid therapy.
There are reports of cardiac arrhythmias, and/or circulatory collapse and/or cardiac arrest following the rapid administration of large IV doses of methylprednisolone sodium succinate (>0.5 g administered over a period of <10 min). Bradycardia has been reported during or after the administration of large doses of methylprednisolone sodium succinate and may be unrelated to the speed or duration of infusion.
Systemic corticosteroids should be used with caution and only if strictly necessary, in cases of congestive heart failure.
Vascular Effects: Thrombosis including venous thromboembolism has been reported to occur with corticosteroids. As a result, corticosteroids should be used with caution in patients who have or may be predisposed to thromboembolic disorders.
Steroids should be used with caution in patients with hypertension.
Gastrointestinal Effects: There is no universal agreement on whether corticosteroids per se are responsible for peptic ulcers encountered during therapy; however, glucocorticoid therapy may mask the symptoms of peptic ulcer so that perforation or hemorrhage may occur without significant pain. In combination with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the risk of developing gastrointestinal ulcers is increased.
Corticosteroids should be used with caution in patients with nonspecific ulcerative colitis if there is a probability of impending perforation, abscess, or other pyogenic infection, diverticulitis, fresh intestinal anastomoses or active or latent peptic ulcer.
Hepatobiliary Effects: High doses of corticosteroids may produce acute pancreatitis.
Drug induced liver injury eg, acute hepatitis can result from cyclical pulsed IV methylprednisolone (usually at doses of 1 g/day). The time to onset of acute hepatitis can be several weeks or longer. Resolution of the adverse event has been observed after treatment was discontinued.
Musculoskeletal Effects: An acute myopathy has been reported with the use of high doses of corticosteroids, most often occurring in patients with disorders of neuromuscular transmission (eg, myasthenia gravis), or in patients receiving concomitant therapy with anticholinergics eg, neuromuscular blocking drugs (eg, pancuronium). This acute myopathy is generalized, may involve ocular and respiratory muscles and may result in quadriparesis. Elevations of creatine kinase may occur. Clinical improvement or recovery after stopping corticosteroids may require weeks to years.
Osteoporosis is a common but infrequently recognized adverse effect associated with a long-term use of large doses of glucocorticoid.
Renal and Urinary Disorders: Corticosteroids should be used with caution in patients with renal insufficiency.
Investigations: Average and large doses of hydrocortisone or cortisone can cause elevation of blood pressure, salt and water retention and increased excretion of potassium. These effects are less likely to occur with the synthetic derivatives except when used in large doses. Dietary salt restriction and potassium supplementation may be necessary. All corticosteroids increase calcium excretion.
Injury, Poisoning and Procedural Complications: Systemic corticosteroids are not indicated for and therefore, should not be used to treat, traumatic brain injury; a multicenter study revealed an increased mortality at 2 weeks and 6 months, after injury in patients administered Solu-Medrol compared to placebo. A causal association with methylprednisolone sodium succinate treatment has not been established.
Other Adverse Events: Since complications of treatment with glucocorticoids are dependent on the size of the dose and the duration of treatment, a risk or benefit decision must be made in each individual case as to dose and duration of treatment as to whether daily or intermittent therapy should be used.
The lowest possible dose of corticosteroid should be used to control the condition under treatment and when reduction in dosage is possible, the reduction should be gradual.
Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents should be used cautiously in conjunction with corticosteroids.
Pheochromocytoma crisis, which can be fatal, has been reported after administration of systemic corticosteroids. Corticosteroids should only be administered to patients with suspected or identified pheochromocytoma after an appropriate risk/benefit evaluation.
Effects on the Ability to Drive or Operate Machinery: The effect of corticosteroids on the ability to drive or use machinery has not been systematically evaluated. Adverse effects eg, dizziness, vertigo, visual disturbances and fatigue are possible after treatment with corticosteroids. If affected, patients should not drive or operate machinery.
Impairment of Fertility: Corticosteroids have been shown to impair fertility in animal studies (see Pharmacology: Toxicology under Actions).
Use in Pregnancy: Animal studies have shown that corticosteroids, when administered to the mother at high doses, may cause fetal malformations. However, corticosteroids do not appear to cause congenital anomalies when given to pregnant women. Nevertheless, because the studies in humans cannot rule out the possibility of harm, methylprednisolone sodium succinate should be used during pregnancy only if clearly needed.
Some corticosteroids readily cross the placenta. One retrospective study found an increased incidence of low-birth weights in infants born of mothers receiving corticosteroids. Infants born to mothers, who have received substantial doses of corticosteroids during pregnancy must be carefully observed and evaluated for signs of adrenal insufficiency, although neonatal adrenal insufficiency appears to be rare in infants who were exposed in utero to corticosteroids.
There are no known effects of corticosteroids on labor and delivery.
Cataracts have been observed in infants born to mothers treated with long-term corticosteroids during pregnancy.
Benzyl alcohol can cross the placenta (see Precautions).
Use in Lactation: Corticosteroids are excreted in breast milk.
Corticosteroids distributed into breast milk may suppress growth and interfere with endogenous glucocorticoid production in nursing infants. Since adequate reproductive studies have not been performed in humans with glucocorticoids, these drugs should be administered to nursing mothers the benefits of therapy are judged to outweigh the potential risks to the infant.
Use in Children: The preservative benzyl alcohol has been associated with serious adverse events, including the "gasping syndrome" and death in pediatric patients. Although normal therapeutic doses of Solu-Medrol ordinarily deliver amounts of benzyl alcohol that are substantially lower than those reported in association with the "gasping syndrome", the minimum amount of benzyl alcohol at which toxicity may occur is not known. The risk of benzyl alcohol toxicity depends on the quantity administered and the hepatic capacity to detoxify the chemical. Premature and low-birth weight infants may be more likely to develop toxicity.
Growth and development of infants and children on prolonged corticosteroid therapy should be carefully observed. Growth may be suppressed in children receiving long-term, daily, divided-dose glucocorticoid therapy and use of such regimen should be restricted to the most urgent indications. Alternate-day glucocorticoid therapy usually avoids or minimizes this side effect.
Infants and children on prolonged corticosteroid therapy are at special risk from raised intracranial pressure.
High doses of corticosteroids may produce pancreatitis in children.