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Understanding steroids and diabetes

Steroids work mainly by reducing inflammation. They are used to treat various conditions where inflammation occurs. Examples of these conditions include:

  • Rhuematoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Inflammation of the bowel
  • Some types of malignant diseases
  • Some auto immune conditions

Steroids help improve many illnesses. Steroids used include:

  • Prednisolone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Betamethasone
  • Dexamethesone
  • Deflazacort

Some people taking steroids experience side effects. The purpose of this leaflet is to give you information about steroids and high blood sugar levels.

A short course of steroids (e.g. 1-2 weeks) may cause no problem with your blood sugar level. Also inhaled steroids and steroid skin creams are not likely to cause diabetes.

If you are prescribed steroid pills on a frequent basis or in large doses, then the risk of developing diabetes increases. This risk is further increased if you have a family history of diabetes or developed diabetes during pregnancy.

If you already have diabetes then you may notice a rise in your blood sugar levels, usually meaning that your diabetes treatment may need altering.

The reason that blood glucose levels rise during steroid treatment is that the liver produces more sugar than normal and your body is not able to produce enough insulin to cope with this increase. Also the insulin produced may not be working properly; this is known as insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the glucose enter the cells where it is used as fuel for the body.

Your steroid therapy may need to be on a permanent basis. If so, and you have developed diabetes or you have pre-existing diabetes, you will be reviewed by your GP or asked to attend the diabetic clinic at the local hospital on a regular basis.

If your steroid treatment is intermittent, for example you only take it with an acute recurrence of your illness, your diabetes treatment may need to be intermittent too. In between steroid therapy, you may not need either diabetic tablets or insulin. But they may well need to be restarted if steroids are restarted.

If you have been on large doses of steroids but these doses are reduced as you get better, then treatment for your diabetes will also need to be reduced or you will be at risk of hypoglycaemia.

If you are on steroid therapy, you, your doctor or nurse need to check your blood sugars regularly. If you are concerned that you may be developing diabetes or your diabetes is getting out of control while on steroids, contact your GP or local diabetes clinic if you attend there.

Further Reading

For further information on this subject try reading Type 2 diabetes and steroid tablets provided by

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