Can Steroids Cause Diabetes?

Ask any physician the question can steroids cause diabetes and you will receive an emphatic answer–yes. However, the steroids in question are not the kind that weight trainers use to develop muscle mass. Instead these are medicinal steroids such as prednisone, hydrocortisone and dexamethasone. Patients often receive prescriptions for these glucocorticoids (also known as corticosteroids) when suffering from any one of the following diseases

  • Lupus
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and associated ankylosing spondylitis and polymyositis
  • Mixed connective tissue disease
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Dermatomyositis-skin and muscle inflammation caused by connective tissue disease
  • Behcet’s disease–an inflammatory disorder rarely occuring but causing widespread sores, arthritis and possibly meningitis
  • Systemic sclerosis
  • Vasculitis–includes Takayasu arteritis, Kawasaki disease and Behcet’s
  • Various inflammatory conditions

Steroids are also found in nasal solutions, topical ointments, inhalers and eye drops but the amount of steroids in these medications are minimal and do not possess the ability to cause diabetes. However, potent injections or oral doses of prednisone or dexamethasone given over a long period of time may potentially develop into secondary causes for high blood glucose and insulin resistance.

By effectively relieving inflammation and counteracting the negative reaction of the immune system towards the body, steroids assist white blood cells and infection-fighting hormones in attacking pathogens and minimizing tissue damage caused by an autoimmune inflammation response.

Inflammation produces swelling, redness, extreme warmth and pain to areas of the body being blasted by a compromised immune system. Some cases of autoimmune inflammation cause more than swelling and pain, as in cases of multiple sclerosis.

Steroid-Caused Diabetes

Steroid-Caused DiabetesCan steroids cause diabetes in everyone who must take them for control of a disorder? Not necessarily. Certain risk factors provoke the possible emergence of diabetes in people never diagnosed with diabetes. These risk factors include:

  • Extended use of steroids (two to three years or more)
  • Requiring higher than normal doses of a steroid for regulation of a disorder
  • Family history of diabetes (especially type 2)
  • Being overweight
  • Having pre-diabetic conditions such as high glucose
  • Recently undergoing a kidney transplant

Because they counteract insulin’s ability to facilitate glucose absorption by cells, corticosteroids tend to stress the pancreas by forcing it to produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Alternatively, this creates an insulin resistance situation within the body, a precursor condition for diabetes. In addition, individuals already suffering from diabetes may experience worsening of symptoms. Following a diabetic diet and engaging in exercise is mandatory in furthering adverse conditions.

Along with diabetes, steroids may also cause:

  • Suppression of immune system functioning
  • Mood swings and on rare occasions, psychotic breaks
  • Acne outbreaks
  • Osteoporosis
  • Insomnia
  • Puffing of the face (called “moon face”)
  • Cataracts
  • Uncontrollable weight gain

While the answer to the question of can steroids cause diabetes is yes, sometimes the necessity of using the steroid is more important than not taking for fear of possibly developing diabetes.

Autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis or lupus are chronic and do not have a cure available. Long-term use of steroids is therefore necessary to treat these diseases and at least make them manageable by increasing the comfort level of the patient suffering from such a disease.

Minimizing Risk of Diabetes

Fortunately, methods to reduce the risk of developing diabetes from steroid use are frequently applicable. Some of these methods include:

  • Whenever possible, use topical steroids.
  • Consistently monitor blood glucose levels to begin immediate treatment if diabetes emerges.
  • Eat a healthy diet consisting of fresh food. Avoid sugar, white flour and alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly–walking is one of the best forms of exercise for enhancement of overall health.
  • If the disease is under control, begin reducing the prescribed steroid amount slowly and under a physician’s guidance–abrupt withdrawal from steroids can produce harmful side effects.

Being aware of an explanation to the question of can steroids cause diabetes allows someone to understand the implications involving long-term corticosteroids beforehand so they can begin implementing preventative measures that may inhibit the development of diabetes.


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