Steroid Injections and Its Side Effects

Content published and reviewed by Sandra Thomas

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Steroid injections, also known as corticosteroid injections, are stress relieving, anti-inflammatory medicines used in the treatment of various medical conditions.

While steroid injections do come with a lot of benefits, such as reduced body pain and stress, they also have a good amount of adverse side effects and risks. It’s up to your doctor to decide whether the benefits of steroid injections outweigh the risks based on the medical record of each patient.

Why Do People Take Steroid Injections

Steroid injections are used by medical professionals to treat various types of injuries and medical conditions. This includes immune-related diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and so on. They are also helpful in treating joint and muscle conditions such as joint pains, gouts, tendinitis, etc.

When injected into the bloodstream, steroid injections help reduce inflammation in the body. They also have the adverse effect of weakening the body’s immune system. In autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, where the immune system attacks the body, steroid injections are extremely significant and needed.

They are also great in helping to reduce swelling and redness around the joints.

Some steroids injections begin relieving pain immediately, while others take time to become effective.

How Are Steroid Injections Taken?

Steroids injections will most likely be administered by a specialist doctor. Depending on the purpose of the injection, there are several different ways steroids can be injected;

  • Directly into a joint (this is referred to as intra-articular injection)
  • Into a muscle (intramuscular injection)
  • Directly into the blood (intravenous injection)
  • Into the soft tissue located close to the joint (peri-articular injection)
  • Into the spine (epidural injection)
  • Into a bursae (these are fluid-filled sacs located between some joints and tendons)

Steroid injections could also be administered through the veins (intravenously). However, this is rare and is mostly used for autoimmune flares.

The area around the injection may remain sore for a few days. You’ll be required to keep the injection site dry and clean for at least 24 hours after the steroid injection.

To help reduce the discomfort of the injection, doctors may administer an anesthetic to numb the pain. The anesthetic will last for a few hours and will do well in numbing any residual pain you might have felt from the steroid injection.

You should wait for 15 to 20 minutes after taking your steroid injection. This is important in case you develop any harmful side effects, as you will be surrounded by health care professionals.

For some conditions, such as arthritis, steroid injections are often best suited for short term treatment, as opposed to long term. This is because of the many side effects long term steroid injections can cause.

Side Effects and Health Risks of Steroid Injections

The majority of people who take steroid injections experience little to no side effects. While they may feel a little uncomfortable while taking the injection, that is only temporary. The most common side effect of steroid injections is joint pain or flare-up around the area of the injection. However, this only lasts a little over 24 hours, and simple painkillers like paracetamol are effective in stopping the pain.

The risk of side effects also depends greatly on the strength of the steroid injection you took, as lighter mixtures tend to leave no side effects.

Potential side effects also depend greatly on where the steroid injection is taken. For instance, injections into the spine, muscle, or joints often include temporary pain and discomfort, temporary bruising or blood clotting, pale skin where the injection was taken, increase blood sugar levels, and so on.

On rare occasions, steroid injections in the spine could lead to an infection, headaches, swelling, redness, and pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor and seek medical advice immediately.

Epidural injections can also cause painful headaches. Although this will probably leave on its own, you should contact medical personnel for help. Lying down will also help in curbing these headaches. Side effects of steroid injections given directly into the bloodstream tend to vary from little things like mood changes, increase in appetite, difficulty in sleeping, and so on.

Some common side effects of steroid injections include;

  • Changes in the color of the skin or thinning at the injection site
  • Temporarily flushed face
  • Loss of fat around the area of injection
  • Pain around the area of injection (this could range from minor pain to more intense pain. If you experience any pain at all, you should call a doctor.)
  • Temporary insomnia
  • Constant mood swings
  • Temporary changes to women’s periods

People with high blood pressure, diabetes, or high blood sugar levels are at risk when taking steroid injections, as steroid injections tend to cause an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar. Your doctor will discuss with you if it is still safe for you to get the steroid injection.

If you happen to take steroid injections regularly over short periods, you may have to worry about other side effects including weight gain, hair loss, acne, etc.

If you have any worries concerning any of the side effects or the process of taking the steroid injections, please discuss with your doctor or any verified medical personnel.

What to Know Before You Take a Steroid Injection

Steroid injections may not be the best option for everyone. It is important to inform your doctor, or the medical personnel administering the injection if;

  • You recently had a steroid injection.
  • You recently had a vaccine or are planning on getting vaccinated soon.
  • You are pregnant, breastfeeding, or in the process of trying to have a baby.
  • You have heart, liver, or kidney problems.
  • You are currently taking other medications.
  • You have or recently had any kind of infection.
  • You have had allergic reactions to steroids before.

Conclusion

Steroid injections can be a key part of a treatment plan for many autoimmune and joint conditions. Depending on your conditions, the doctor may give you your steroid injection along with other anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving drugs.

Overall, it is recommended that you have no more than 3 to 4 steroid injections per year. The exact number can be determined by your doctor, after an examination of your body and your medical condition.

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