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The Dangers Of Steroid Medications & How They Affect Thyroid Health

Although my focus is to attempt to use natural treatment methods whenever possible, I realize there is a time and place for prescription drugs, as well as surgery, and other medical procedures. The problem is that most medical doctors become too reliant on conventional medical treatments, and many times these doctors don’t do anything to determine the actual cause of a problem. Sure, sometimes the medication they prescribe has minimal side effects, even if taken long term. On the other hand, other drugs they recommend to their patients can have severe implications if taken long term.

Corticosteroids, such as Prednisone, fall under the latter category. In fact, even when taken for a short period of time these drugs put a major strain on our bodies. And when taken over a period of many months or years, the consequences can be detrimental. Corticosteroids can affect many of the bodily systems, including the thyroid gland and adrenals.

Corticosteroids Can Cause Or Worsen Hypothyroidism

The way that corticosteroids can cause the development of hypothyroidism, or worsen it in individuals who already have this condition, is by reducing or stopping the secretion of TSH. This in turn will result in a reduction of thyroid hormone in the body. So if someone is taking a drug such as Prednisone for a long period of time, it is possible this can lead to the development of hypothyroidism. This is why fully evaluating each patient on an individual basis is important, as any good doctor needs to know which prescription drugs each of their patients are taking, as they can provide a lot of useful information as to why someone is experiencing certain symptoms.

This of course isn’t to suggest that taking corticosteroids is the cause of most cases of hypothyroidism, as this obviously isn’t the reason why most people develop hypothyroid conditions.  But because these drugs can potentially lead to hypothyroidism, as well as other conditions, it is extremely important to find out if someone is taking these drugs, as well as other medications which can affect the thyroid gland and endocrine system in general.  This is why it is important for any medical doctor to find out all of the medications, as well as any nutritional supplements and herbs their patients are taking.

Corticosteroids Can Also Affect The Health Of The Adrenal Glands

In addition to affecting the thyroid gland, corticosteroids also can affect the health of the adrenal glands.  The reason for this is because the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, which of course is a natural steroid hormone of the body.  When someone takes corticosteroids, which are artificial steroid hormones, they compete with the natural steroid hormone cortisol, and therefore this suppresses the adrenal glands.  The problem is that the artificial steroid hormones don’t function the same way as natural cortisol, and in fact have some potentially harmful side effects. 

As I’ve mentioned in numerous posts and articles in the past, compromised adrenal glands in turn can impact thyroid health.  Weakened adrenal glands can also lead to a compromised immune system, leading to an autoimmune thyroid condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

Other Consequences Of Taking Corticosteroids

I’m not going to talk about all of the different conditions that long term use of corticosteroids can lead to.  Since this is a site that focuses on endocrine disorders, I mainly wanted to make you aware of the impact this drug can have on some of the main endocrine glands of the body.  And if all corticosteroids did was affect the thyroid and adrenal glands, this alone would be enough to justify avoiding these drugs whenever possible.  But in addition to causing problems with the endocrine system, taking synthetic steroid hormones such as Prednisone can cause many other side effects, and lead to other conditions in the future.  It can cause loss of calcium of the bone, leading to the development of osteoporosis, can cause menstrual problems, cataracts, can worsen diabetes, and can cause many other problems.

Once again, I realize that there are times when taking corticosteroids is necessary.  But it’s frustrating that many medical doctors frequently prescribe these drugs as if the side effects were minimal.  Granted, if someone has a severe allergy, or is getting an organ transplant, then I can understand recommending corticosteroids.  So in emergency situations, or if the person is having severe symptoms, then using corticosteroids for a short period of time is perfectly fine.  But in most cases you want to avoid long term use of corticosteroids in order to avoid developing the side effects and conditions mentioned above.

In summary, steroid medication has some benefits, but there are also many risks involved, especially when taken over a long period of time.  So if you are prescribed corticosteroids for a condition that is non life-threatening and/or doesn’t involve severe symptoms, you might want to think twice about taking these powerful drugs, and perhaps look into some natural alternatives instead.  I’m not telling you to stop taking corticosteroids if you’re currently taking them, as this is only a decision that you can make on your own.  As usual, my goal is to simply let you know about some of the potential risks involved, so that you can make an informed decision.


 

45 Comments

  1. Carolyn Sunday says:

    Hi, what is your opinion on HC hydrocortisone use to treat sluggish adrenals, and what would you recommend if not HC?
    Also, if low in the morning, and high at night is there anything that will bring both numbers into a more favorable mid line?
    thank you,
    Carolyn

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      I personally wouldn’t recommended using HC hydrocortisone to treat sluggish adrenals, as in most cases it’s unnecessary. Most people can normalize their cortisol levels through eating well and proper stress management. Sometimes additional adrenal support is necessary, and if so I might recommend certain nutritional supplements and/or herbs to help with this. Eleuthero is an excellent supplement for adrenal support. Plus, Standard Process has a product called Adrenal Complex. Of course I’d consult with a medical or holsitic doctor first before taking these herbs on your own, but thisis the approach I would take.

      Dr. Eric

  2. Carolyn Sunday says:

    Thank you! I appreciate that answer and thank you for your time and expertise.
    Carolyn

  3. Jeanette says:

    I was given 200mg injection of corticosteroid (Solu Cortef) 2 years ago. Within 15 minutes I had an anaphylactoid reaction. I initially lost 10kg in weight, had black stools, 3 menstrual cycles per month, palpitations, trembling, flushing to name but a few of my symptoms. I was also put on Cipro for 15 days which made everything so much worse. 1 year later I was found to have a goiter. I have been suffering from palpitations, trembling and anxiety for the last 2 years since being given the corticosteroid. My TSH stays around 0.6 although in November 2010 one of the nodules hemorrhaged and for about 20 minutes I suffered extreme dizziness and palpitations which sent me heading to ER. The cardiac doctors said it was caused by my thyroid and my heart is ok. I had my TSH levels read 24 hours later and they had dropped to 0.4. In December 2010 I had FNA of them thyroid nodule (which has to be repeated as the sample was determined non diagnostic) and since the FNA the trembling and palpitations are less frequent and my TSH levels are 1.16. Prior to the corticosteroid I had a strange reaction to vasoconstrictor in dental anesthesia where aver a few injections I couldn’t breath well and my heart was racing and I felt faint. I think that the goiter had started acting up at this point and the corticosteroid worsened the symptoms. All I know is a corticosteroid injection has destroyed just over 2 years of my life so far and I am still seeking answers on how to get myself back to normal. I am sick of feeling unwell.

  4. William says:

    Would corticosteroids have any effect on mood? Up till this past year i was in a state of mental fog and, depression. I started taking a corticosteroid over a two week time span. After that I came out of the fog and, would like to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi William,

      Corticosteroids can have many different effects on people, and while it doesn’t always affect different people the same way, it can potentially affect mood. Whether or not taking the corticosteroids was responsible for helping you with the mental fog or was just a coincidence can’t really be confirmed, but it is possible it was a result of taking the corticosteroids.

  5. William says:

    Thank You, For your thoughts.

  6. Eric C says:

    Hi my name is Eric and I was diagnosed with systemic poison ivy when i was about 8. I was told that because it was systemic it could last as long as 7 years. And it did. However I was on prednisone non stop for many many years until it went away. I now have hypothyroidism. I have been checked for diseases and other problems to figure out why I had it and there was none, i have been told by an endocrinologist that prednisone caused it so can I sue my gp for malpractice and negligence?? He never explained that it could effect my thyroid or adrenal glands and once i came off and was diagnosed with hypothyroidism e said nothing about the link with prednisone soo. Do you think i can. Im 18 now.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Eric,

      I’m probably not the right person to ask about this, as you probably would want to contact an attorney and see what they think about this.

  7. Camille says:

    Dear Dr. Eric,

    Almost 7 years ago I was put on Metformin, Spironolactone, Yasmin, a progesterone cream and Armour Thyroid. I ended up gaining probably 30 pounds within a month or close to it. I also developed elbow pain. Not quite a year later a doctor put me on Prednisone for my elbow pain while I was still on those other drugs. I was put on 12 pills a day first thing in the morning (unfortunately I don’t remember the dose). I was on the 2nd or 3rd day and my heart began to hurt (I remember thinking it gripped like a vice) and my left arm went numb. My heart raced for 3 days after like I was running on a treadmill at 10 MPH. I was exhausted. Since then my heart has had palpitations/fluttering feeling, tightness and pain. Not all day every day but sometimes it comes and lasts for weeks. I did an Isagenix 9 day cleanse, and my right elbow quit hurting, but I had to stop and not do a 30 day cleanse, which was the original plan, because my heart was freaking out. It was hurting, lots of palpitations and tightness. I had an EKG at that time, and it just showed my heart beat was a little fast 101. I also had an EKG 3 weeks after I had that incident with my heart hurting, and it didn’t show anything from what the doctor said.

    After this incident with the heart pain, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto Thyroiditis as my TPO was at 444 and was suppose to be between 0-34.

    I have heard of people having steroid induced heart attacks. Do you think that could be a possibility as to what happened to me that day?

    Also, I read another article of yours on mercury fillings and Hashimoto. It helped convince me to for sure switch out my fillings which I did last year.

    Thank you for your wonderful articles and for being such a great doctor!

    Camile

  8. Darin M. says:

    Dr. Eric,

    I was prescribed 120mg/day of Prednisone by by hematologist to boost my platelet level to a safe level to allow my orthopedic surgeon to perform a fremoral osteotomy on July 16, 2012. He ordered an IG at first, but my insurance denied the preauthorization because for some reason he didn’t put that it was life threatening if it wasn’t performed. For some reason the hematologist thought that a femoral osteotomy would be something that would be orthascopic and not be a 8 inch incision or so, which is why he didn’t put the life threatening note on the insurance preauthorization. My insurance denied the IG and they went the 86 cent route of giving me prednisone. Now I have had the plate removed as of December 27,2012 and it took them months to taper my dose off of prednisone after the first surgery on July 16th. Now I have the symptoms of Thyroiditis/Cushings and I have to see an endocrineologist to see why my Cortisol and Thyroid levels are critical. Do you think it’s possible the Prednisone could have messed me up? I’m so frustrated.

  9. Megan says:

    Dr. Eric,

    I have been on prednisone about 2 weeks out of every month this year and in July and endocrinologist diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue from the steroid use. Because my asthma has been terrible, I have been on steroids since them. The last time I took steroids was about 2 weeks ago. From December to now, I have gained 30 lbs, lost my libido, have mood swings, stomach pain, constipation, and recently (as in the last week or so) have developed intense leg/feet cramps while just laying in bed at night. Attibuting my weight gain to all the steroids I have been taking I have been punishing myself with a 1200 cal diet to try to lose the weight I gained. I’m eating healthy food and have been exercising 3 times a week for the past 2 weeks and I have only lost about 4 lbs. I knew the steroids caused my body to feel different and experience terrible side effects so I called my endo and asked him to run blood work on me 2 weeks ago. I never heard back from them, so I assumed everything was normal. Then, I went to my OBGYN today for my annual exam and he told me that my thyroid is enlarged. This prompted me to call my endo and ask for the results as well as request an appoinment with him. The nurse called me back and let me know that my cholesterol was high and that my cortisol was low. They only tested my adrenal function and did not run a thyroid panel. Do you think if I am infact having thyroid and adrenal issues due to the steroids, that this will likely be something that I will stuggle with forever or just in the interim? Also, can you recommend a good endocrinologist in the Houston area that utilizes natural treatment methods? Thanks!

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Megan,

      Unfortunately I don’t know of any endocrinologists in the Houston area, but it does sound like you need to see a different one. I do think the steroids can be affecting the thyroid gland and/or adrenals, but it probably isn’t something you will need to deal with permanently. I think you just need to find the right doctor.

  10. Anonymus says:

    I was prescribed prednisone twice in the last three months each course lasting for a week and twenty days which lead to scanty menstruation, spotting and even offensive discharge. As per gynaecologist’s suggestion, i carried out my thyroid function test which showed the result of increased TSH.Now the doctor have prescribed me synthetic thyroxin, I am sick of taking medicines. Do I need to have these pills lifelong now?

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hello,

      Some people who are taking synthetic thyroid hormone do need to take it on a permanent basis. On the other hand, if you work with a natural healthcare professional who will look to address the cause of the condition then there is chance you can restore your thyroid health. So my advice would be to find a local chiropractor or naturopath to work with who has experience with thyroid conditions.

  11. Sarah says:

    Hi,
    Sorry for the previous message I was having difficulty with my IP.
    About 1 year ago I had a bad fall and crushed my disc between C6/C7 that resulted in long term nerve pain in neck/arms & hands. I have trialed many meds and physio without much success. Last week I agreed to a cervical epidural injection. Prior to that I was diagnosed with Thyroiditis (graves disease runs in the family) and a 2.5cm benign nodule on the left side of the thyroid.
    I want to know if the injection can affect the thyroiditis? Can it clinically change the nodule?
    I have gotten some relief on the left arm and neck area, but feel like caffeine is running through my veins (and I have never been a tea/coffee or soda drinker. My voice is also hoarse.
    Any advice would be appreciated as I cannot get in for a follow up until late May.
    Kind Regards

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I don’t think that getting the injection can cause any changes to the nodule, although to be honest I’m not 100% certain of this. Have you every considered seeing a chiropractor about the C6/C7 problem? I can understand not wanting to have your neck manipulated, but in this day and age many chiropractors are able to adjust the spine with gentle instruments which don’t involve any twisting of the neck. I’m not sure if this will help but it might be something to consider, as I’m not sure how long the effects of the injection will last.

  12. Emma says:

    Hi Dr. Eric

    I am a 21-year old woman from Denmark. I have been perscribed accutane for acne along with a topical corticosteroid (betnovate) 0.1%. I was directed to use the betnovate for the first two months, now I am on month 5 and I still use a tiny bit every day to spot-treat on my face. My derm says it is ok (I’ve asked her several times) and I’ve had the 30g tube for 5 months, and it is still half-full. But I am very worried, because I seem to develope some small spider veins on my face, I am very tired,and I bruise very easily. Do you think it have maybe damages my adrenal glands or something? I am really worried, because it is hard to quit using the cream, it has become kind of a “safety” thing for me, when I feel a spot. Again, I use a very small amount (similar to half of the nail on my little finger). If I quit using the cream, I am afraid that I will break out again, even though the accutane seems to have made me almost clear, most of the time.

    Do you have any advice for me?

    Emma.

  13. Anne says:

    Is there a way to confirm that cortisone led to my Hashimotos?
    Workers comp uses these injections as the “cheap fix”, without caring about the side effects and the calcium loss, that I HAVE. I am 53 and was told I have the back of a 90 year old.
    They were giving me those injections once every 3 weeks, for a total of 3 shots. Then this was repeated again 6 months later. This went on for 10 years before I could not take it anymore. The relief was too short and the shots were too painful.
    Now I have Hashimotos and osteoparosis and osteoarthritis.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Ann,

      While it is possible that taking the cortisone was a primary cause or a contributing factor to those conditions, unfortunately there is no way I know of to prove that receiving these injections triggered an autoimmune response, thus leading to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or led to osteoporosis.

  14. Anne says:

    “while it is possible”….speaks volumes.
    I just wanted to know. I am not looking to sue anyone.

    I love your emailed letters and videos, that are specifically
    related to your “issue”.

    Thank you for a personal touch on these issues.
    It is no small thing, that you take time to help others,
    for free. You are a wonderful spirit~

  15. Lang says:

    4 months ago I tested positive for thyroid autoantibodies and had a very high TSH. I was put on thyroxine. 2 months ago I had 1 steroid injection for back pain. 1 month ago I had 2 more injections. Now the thyroid function tests have switched to becoming elevated. Today I have blood pressure 143/84 and a heart rate of 92. My normal heart rate ranges from 60-70. I’m shaky and have frequent head aches. I’ve lost 20 pounds over the last month.

    I’m going to my endocrinologist soon, but do you have any suggestions on a natural way to slow down my thyroid?

  16. Kristine says:

    My endo is really hung up on weight. I am about 10lbs over weight, but I also have a 4 level cervical fusion, so I cannot exercise at the intensity I once use to.
    I am not flabby at all, in fact, all summer, I swam and rode my bike nearly every day, and now I have a TOTAL GYM machine, in the basement.
    I am frustrated that the scale does not move, but I am happy with the way I look, and that I fit into smaller size clothes, despite the scale.
    My OBGYN, says not to worry. I am 53, and some of this is “hormones”.

    Do I need to be more concerned over 10lbs? Maybe time for another opinion?
    Thanks for all your time and experise. I am most grateful and love the videos on Hashimotos, emailed to me!

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Kristine,

      Obviously it’s best not to be overweight, but I wouldn’t get stressed out over being 10 pounds overweight. I agree that some of this can be due to the hormones, although if you’re eating more than 200 grams of carbohydrates per day then you might want to reduce your daily intake.

  17. Denise says:

    I have had hypo for 20 years. Recently I have started to get injections in my knees and neck. I have also gained 40 lbs in this time.

    How would you suggest I approach my endocrinologist ?

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Denise,

      Although you might still need to work with your endocrinologist, I would try to consult with a local natural healthcare professional. In fact, in your case you might want to see if their is a holistic medical doctor who practices functional medicine, as they not only will help to address the cause of the problem, but if necessary can make recommendations regarding the steroid injections.

  18. Nicole says:

    After a cervical steroid injection my usually very normal TSH level dropped so much that the doctor is calling me back for another test. If the level is still off then I will be referred to endocrinology. I am concerned that the drop was caused by the injection and I do not want to start treatment for my thyroid if it is just screwy from the steroid. I would like your thoughts on this. I did suggest to the doctor that the steroid may be the culprit but the idea was dismissed and the doctor feels that the shots would not have any effect on what she is testing for – TSH levels.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Nicole,

      I don’t blame you for being concerned, as while there is always a chance that the TSH level dropped due to another factor, it very well could have been caused by the injection. I of course can’t tell you to stop getting the injections, but I would recommend getting a second opinion before taking thyroid hormone, and since medication is involved it might be best to consult with a holistic medical doctor who practices functional medicine.

  19. Martha says:

    Two questions: (1) if the TSH drops, is that hyper- thyroid, not hypo?, and(2) are you familiar with Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy, and the use if high doses of steroids to treat the brain inflammation? What are your thoughts about that treatment and its impact on thyroid functioning?

  20. Silvia says:

    Respected Dr. Eric

    I’m 21 years old, 2 years ago I have suffered from severe acne which got treated with systemic doxcycline over a period of 3 months. But my dermatologist suggested that I visit an endocrinologist and I did. He suspected that it may be PCOS, but it was not.
    He asked for MRI of the abdominal region, which was perfect, CT scan which was clear as well. I measured my cortisol levels, testosterone and they were within normal ranges. He did some ambiguous lab tests in his private practice and based on them he prescribed :

    Dexamethazone 0.5 mg twice daily
    Glucophage 1000 mg twice daily
    Cimetidine 400 mg twice daily
    Spironolcatone 10 mg twice daily
    Eltroxin started as 50 then increased it gradually till 200
    Chromium 3 times a day

    I have gained 15 Kgs over the past 2 years, even though I’m quite careful with what I eat. I suffer from edema in my eye lids as well to the extent i can’t open my eyes.
    I feel that he has destroyed my thyroid gland, could that be possible ?
    shall I continue with these medications – I have been on them for the past 2 years and he doesn’t seem to be willing to stop them any time soon

    I really need an advice.. Im tired of having to bear with the adverse effects of Dexamethazone.
    Was this therapy rationale from the beginning ?

    Eagerly anticipating a reponse

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