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Why You Need to Beware Using Steroids for Asthma—Even Short-Term

Why You Need to Beware Using Steroids for Asthma—Even Short-Term

Miguel Indurain, five-time winner of the Tour de France, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, an Olympic track star and Jerome Bettis, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, were able to master their sport despite having asthma. Around 25 million Americans also contend with the disease—and work hard to control it so they too can stay active. Sometimes, however, an acute flare-up happens unexpectedly. That’s when folks may take oral corticosteroids (along with a rescue inhaler) to restore comfortable breathing. These powerful drugs are also used to ease chronic joint pain and severe allergic reactions.

What are they? Lab-made chemicals resembling the hormone cortisol, which your adrenal gland produces naturally—and they’re not exactly like ‘roids athletes abuse in order to get pumped. But they still have potential side effects. Long-term, they may cause bone weakening and even cataracts. And a new study has found serious risks associated with short-term use as well.

Research published in The BMJ reviewed records of more than 300,000 people, which tracked them after they took corticosteroids orally for less than a month. The investigators found they had four times the risk of sepsis (blood infection), over three times the risk of blood clots and twice the risk of bone fracture compared to folks who didn’t take oral corticosteroids. And this was at a relatively low dose of 20mg daily.

So if your doc suggests a short-term corticosteroid, make sure benefits outweigh your risks, ask how to monitor for those risks and take ‘em for the shortest possible length of time.

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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