Stopping corticosteroid therapy
In autoimmune disease, clear end-points should be set before starting therapy. Corticosteroids may improve mood and give patients a feeling of general well-being unrelated to the effect on the disease being treated. Subjective assessments can therefore be misleading. Objective clinical parameters should be used to monitor the need for continuing or restarting therapy . proteinuria in nephritis, spirometry in asthma and creatinine kinase in myositis. Therapy should be tapered off. For example, with prednis(ol)one, the dose is reduced in steps of -5 mg every 3-7 days down to 15 mg/day. At that point, switch to alternate day therapy and reduce in mg steps over 2-3 weeks. This minimises the impact on mood and lessens the drop in general well-being.
Because of these side effects, doctors frequently choose safer medications, such as the 5-ASA drugs and antibiotics, as initial therapy. But there are a number of ways to reduce the risk of developing side effects. These include rapid but careful tapering off of steroids; alternate-day dosing; rectally applied corticosteroids; and rapidly metabolized corticosteroids such as budesonide (described above). To help prevent osteoporosis, many doctors routinely prescribe calcium supplements as well as multivitamins that contain vitamin D. Another option is the use of bisphosphonates, such as risedronate (Actonel®) and alendronate (Fosamax®). These compounds, which have been shown to help avert bone loss, are effective in treating and preventing steroid-induced osteoporosis.
The aim of this article is to bring less well recognised adverse effects of inhaled corticosteroids to the attention of prescribers. Whilst inhaled steroids have a more favourable side effect profile than systemic steroids, they are not free from adverse effects. The dose of inhaled steroids used should be carefully monitored, and kept at the lowest dose necessary to maintain adequate control of the patient’s disease process. Be particularly aware of the cumulative effect of co-prescribing various dose forms of corticosteroids (inhaled, intranasal, oral and topical preparations).