It’s important to remember that each person’s reaction to a drug is different and some people have very few side effects. The side effects will also vary according to the dose of the steroid that you are having, and may be different if you are also having other drugs.
We have outlined the most common side effects but haven't included those that are rare and therefore unlikely to affect you. If you notice any side effects that aren't listed below, discuss them with your doctor, chemotherapy nurse or pharmacist.
Tummy pain and/or indigestion
Steroids can irritate the stomach lining. Let your nurse or doctor know if you have pain in your tummy or indigestion. They can prescribe drugs to help reduce stomach irritation.
Take your tablets with food to help protect your stomach. Some steroid tablets are coated to help reduce irritation.
Raised blood sugar levels
Steroids can raise your blood sugar levels. Your nurse will check your blood regularly for this. They may also test your urine for sugar. Symptoms of raised blood sugar include feeling thirsty, needing to pass urine more often and feeling tired. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.
If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this. You may need to adjust your insulin or tablet dose.
Build-up of fluid
You may put on weight or your ankles and legs may swell because of fluid building up. This is caused by steroids and is more common if you are taking them for a long time. Tell your doctor or nurse if fluid builds up. If your ankles and legs swell, it can help to put your legs up on a foot stool or cushion. The swelling gets better after your treatment ends.
Steroids can make you feel much hungrier than usual and you may gain weight. Your appetite will go back to normal when you stop taking them. If you’re worried about gaining weight, talk to your doctor or nurse.
Increased chance of infection and delayed healing
This is more likely to happen if you are having high-dose or long-term treatment. Tell your doctor if you notice signs of infection such as inflammation, redness, soreness or a temperature, or if cuts take longer than usual to heal. To help prevent infection, it's especially important to be careful with things like washing your hands.
Changes to your periods
Women may find that their periods become irregular or stop.
Mood and behaviour changes
Steroids can affect your mood. You may feel anxious or restless, have mood swings or problems sleeping. Taking your steroids in the morning may help you sleep better.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these side effects. They may make some changes to your treatment if the side effects become a problem.
Discomfort in your bottom
If the steroid dexamethasone is given quickly into a vein, it can cause a strange sensation in the perineal area – the area just in front of your back passage. This only lasts for a short time.