Corticosteroids (also referred to as steroids) are prescription medications used to control inflammation in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Some COPD maintenance medications contain inhaled steroid medications. However, systemic steroids that are swallowed or injected may be prescribed in the short term to treat intense symptoms during exacerbations (flare-ups).
Corticosteroids are synthetic hormones that suppress immune system response. Prednisone, Prednisolone, Dexamethasone, and Methylprednisolone are examples of steroids. Steroids are believed to work by inhibiting or blocking inflammatory responses within the body.
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Oral corticosteroids are swallowed in tablet, pill, or liquid form. Steroids may also be administered intravenously (by IV) during hospitalization for a COPD flare-up.
Oral or IV steroids are usually only prescribed to people with COPD for short courses at low doses, since they can cause severe side effects. Your doctor will give you a schedule to follow to taper off your dosage of steroids and gradually stop taking them.
Studies have shown that systemic corticosteroids can help improve outcomes in people experiencing COPD flare-ups.
When taken orally for a short time, corticosteroids can cause side effects including high blood sugar, fluid retention, rounding of the face known as “moon face,” insomnia, euphoria, depression, anxiety, and mania.
Longer-term effects of taking systemic steroids can include joint softening or destruction, diabetes, weight gain around the trunk, dementia, osteoporosis that may result in fractures, Cushing’s syndrome, glaucoma, and cataracts.
People taking oral or IV corticosteroids are more susceptible to infection due to the immunosuppressive nature of the drug. Avoid exposure to people who are sick and wash hands frequently while taking corticosteroids.
Systemic corticosteroids can cause psychological side effects such as mood swings, aggression, agitation, or nervousness. Notify your doctor if these changes become intense or difficult to manage.
Rarely, corticosteroids can also cause allergic reactions. Get medical help immediately if you experience difficulty breathing or swelling in the face, throat, eyes, lips, or tongue.
For more details about this treatment, visit:
COPD: Management of Acute Exacerbations and Chronic Stable Disease – American Academy of Family Physicians
Prednisone and other corticosteroids – Mayo Clinic