Steroid tablets

Steroid tablets (also called corticosteroid tablets) are a type of anti-inflammatory medicine.

Steroid tablets are different from anabolic steroids.

Anabolic steroids are sometimes prescribed by healthcare professionals. They can also be misused by people to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.

Read the patient information leaflet that came with the steroids you were prescribed. It will have specific advice about your medication.

Types of steroid tablets

Steroid tablets are only available on prescription.

Dissolvable, liquid and syrup versions are also available.

Examples include:

  • prednisolone
  • betamethasone
  • dexamethasone

Uses of steroid tablets

Steroid tablets are used treat problems such as:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • eczema
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • arthritis

Get emergency help

Urgent advice: Go to your nearest emergency department (ED) or phone your GP if you get:

  • a rash
  • swelling of the mouth or face
  • difficulty breathing

These are signs of an allergic reaction. Stop taking your steroid tablets.

Check if you can take steroid tablets

Most people can take steroid tablets.

Do not take steroid tablets if you have:

    • had an allergic reaction to steroids in the past
    • any infections
    • recently had, or are about to have a vaccination

Check with your GP if you have:

    • diabetes
    • severe depression, manic depression or a family history of these illnesses
    • epilepsy
    • high blood pressure
    • problems with your liver, heart or kidneys
    • been trying for a baby, are pregnant or breastfeeding
    • an open wound

Tell your GP about risks of infections

You are more likely to get infections when you're taking steroid medication.

Tell your GP if you're exposed to infectious illnesses like chickenpox or shingles.

Steroids makes you more likely to catch infections such as:

Tuberculosis (TB) may also recur.

Keep away from people with an infectious disease, especially chickenpox or shingles. If you have never had these illnesses, they could make you very ill.

Food and alcohol

You can usually drink alcohol while taking steroid tablets. Don't drink too much as this may irritate your stomach.

You can eat most foods while taking steroid tablets. Do not eat liquorice while taking prednisolone. This can increase the amount of the medicine in your body.

How and when to take steroid tablets

Your GP, pharmacist or nurse will explain how much to take and how often.

It's best to take steroid tablets in the morning with breakfast.

This is to try and lower the risk of the medication disturbing your sleep. Taking it with a meal can also prevent stomach irritation.

If you miss a dose

Take your missed dose as soon as you remember, unless it's nearly time for the next one. In this case, skip the missed dose and take your next one as normal.

Do not take a double dose to make up for a forgotten one.

If you often forget doses, it may help to set a reminder alarm.

If you take too much

Talk to your GP or a pharmacist if you're worried you've taken too many tablets.

Taking too many steroid tablets over a long period can make you more likely to get side effects and may affect your hormones. In children, this may affect growth and development.

Coming off treatment

Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to your GP first.

If you've been taking steroid tablets for more than a few days, you will need to reduce your dose gradually. Your GP will tell you how to do this.

This can help avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • severe tiredness
  • joint pain
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • losing your appetite
  • mood changes
  • difficulty sleeping

Side effects of steroid tablets

Non-urgent advice: Talk to a GP if you:

  • show any signs of mental problems
  • are depressed
  • are thinking of harming yourself

Other possible side effects include:

  • indigestion or heartburn
  • increased appetite, which could lead to weight gain
  • difficulty sleeping
  • feeling irritable or anxious
  • an increased risk of infections – especially chickenpox, shingles and measles
  • high blood sugar or diabetes
  • weakening of the bones (osteoporosis)
  • high blood pressure
  • Cushing's syndrome – symptoms such as thin skin that bruises easily
  • eye conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts
  • mental health problems, such as depression or suicidal thoughts

Tell your GP if any side effects bother you.

Information:

See the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for a full list of side effects.

You can report any suspected side effects to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

Interactions with other medicines

Some medicines can interfere with the way steroid tablets work.

Tell a GP or pharmacist if you take any other medicines, herbal remedies or supplements.

If you're already taking steroid tablets ask a GP or pharmacist for advice before taking any other medicines.

Finding your patient information leaflet online

Your patient information leaflet (PIL) is the leaflet that comes in the package of your medicine.

Information:

To find your PIL online, visit the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) website

  1. In the ‘Find a medicine’ search box, enter the brand name of your medicine. A list of matching medicines appears.
  2. To the right of your medicine, select ‘PIL’. A PDF of the PIL opens in a new window.

You can also:

  1. Select the brand name of your medicine.
  2. Scroll down to the Documents section.
  3. From the Package Leaflet line, select PDF version. A PDF of the PIL opens in a new window.

If your PIL is not on the HPRA website, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) website opens in a new window when you select ‘PIL’.

You can find your PIL on the EMA website.

Finding your PIL on the EMA website

If your PIL is not on the HPRA website, you will be sent to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) website.

To find your PIL on the EMA website:

  1. In the Medicines search box, enter the brand name of your medicine and the word ‘epar’. For example: ‘Zoely epar’. A list of matching medicines appears.
  2. Select the ‘Human medicine European public assessment report (EPAR)’ for your medicine
  3. From the table of contents, select Product information.
  4. Select the EPAR – Product Information link for your medicine. A PDF opens in a new window. The PIL information is in Annex III of the PDF under ‘labelling and package leaflet’

This content was fact checked by a pharmacist, a GP, the National Medication Safety Programme (Safermeds) and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 24 September 2021
Next review due: 24 September 2024

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