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Cortisone Pills Side Effects

By Adam Cloe Ph.D./M.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

Cortisone pills (also known as corticosteroids) are prescription medications primarily used to treat conditions caused or exacerbated by inflammation. These potent pharmaceuticals inhibit the immune system, but they can also cause serious side effects, after both short and long-term use.

Gastrointestinal Effects

Short-term use of cortisone pills can lead to an upset stomach (indigestion and nausea). Some patients also experience a bigger appetite as well as weight gain.

Nervous System Effects

Oral corticosteroid use can also cause sleep disturbances, as the medication can disrupt the body's normal cycling of cortisol. Cortisol is the body's naturally produced corticosteroid and it typically has its lowest levels at night and its highest levels in the morning. Cortisone pills can also cause mood swings and headaches.

Metabolic Effects

The Mayo Clinic notes that long-term use of oral corticosteroids can also cause changes in the body's metabolism. This can lead to elevated blood sugar (which can either aggravate or lead to type 2 diabetes). Oral corticosteroid use can also lead to elevated levels of triglycerides, which in turn can lead to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Fat Redistribution

The New Zealand Dermatological Society explains that long-term use of oral corticosteroids can also cause a characteristic redistribution of fat throughout the body. Patients often develop more fat in their face (also known as "moon facies") and develop additional fat in their back ("buffalo hump"). Corticosteroid use also causes fat to accumulate in the patient's abdomen.

Osteoporosis

Cortisone pills can also cause osteoporosis, a condition where the bones to become weak and brittle. Patients with osteoporosis are more likely to develop fractures.

Immunological Effects

Cortisone is commonly prescribed as an immunosuppressant. This can cause the immune system to become abnormally weak, which leads to a patient being more susceptible to infections. This can also lead to previously dormant viruses (such as varicella zoster, which is responsible for causing shingles) to become reactivated.

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