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Learning About Steroids and High Blood Sugar

What are steroids?

Steroid medicines (corticosteroids) are often prescribed by doctors to treat many conditions. They help calm down the body's response to inflammation. You may take them for asthma, COPD, back pain, or allergic reactions. They are also used for other conditions such as autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and certain types of cancer. These medicines can be given as pills or injections.

The steroids discussed here are not the type of steroids used for body building.

What is high blood sugar?

Your body turns the food you eat into glucose (sugar), which it uses for energy. That's a good thing. But if your body isn't able to use the sugar right away, it can build up in your blood and cause problems. When the blood sugar rises to a certain level, it's called high blood sugar. This is also known as hyperglycemia.

What effect can steroids have on blood sugar?

Steroid medicine has many benefits. But one side effect of steroids is that they can raise your blood sugar level while you take them. In most cases, this is temporary.

If you already have diabetes, you may notice that your blood sugars jump higher after you take steroids.

Very rarely, taking steroids may lead to a new diagnosis of diabetes.

What are the symptoms of high blood sugar?

The most common symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Weight loss.
  • Blurry vision.

How is high blood sugar caused by steroids treated?

If your doctor thinks your blood sugar might be too high, you will have a blood test. If your blood sugar is at a harmful level, you may need to take medicine that lowers your blood sugar. After you are finished taking steroids, your blood sugar should go back to its usual level. At that point, you won't need the medicine any longer.

If you are taking medicine for another condition, your doctor may make changes to how you take that medicine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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