Steroid therapy is the use of steroid medications, also known as corticosteroids, to treat many types of autoimmune disease, including myasthenia gravis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, and other disorders, such as asthma. Steroid medications include medications like prednisone and cortisone. Corticosteroids can be prescribed to be taken orally or in other ways, such as by inhalation.
According to Western medicine, steroid medications are medically necessary to treat many conditions and diseases. It is important not only to follow the recommendations of your medical professional regarding steroid use, if you have decided steroid therapy is right for you, but also to explore other medical options if you have second thoughts about steroid medications.
Is steroid therapy right for you?
Steroid medications have major effects on the metabolism of calcium and bone. Steroid therapy can result in severe bone loss, osteoporosis, and broken bones. High dosage of steroid medications can cause rapid bone loss, up to as much as 15 percent per year. If you are on steroids, you are more than twice as likely to have a spine fracture as compared to a person not taking steroids. Fracture risk increases as the daily doses of steroid medications increases. The major impact of steroid medication on bone is fractures (broken bones) that occur most commonly in the spine and ribs. There are different rates of bone loss among individuals on corticosteroids. Bone loss occurs most rapidly in the first six months after starting oral steroid medications. After 12 months of chronic steroid use, there is a slower loss of bone. However, it must be mentioned that not all patients who take steroid medications experience bone loss.
Other adverse side effects of steroid medications are elevation of blood pressure, weight gain, decreased resistance to infection, indigestion, thinning of skin, and potential development of cataracts and glaucoma.
Let me relate my own experience with steroid therapy.
I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis several years ago. Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the skeletal (voluntary) muscles of the body. The hallmark of the disease is muscle weakness, which increases during periods of activity and anxiety, but improves after periods of rest and calm. Certain muscles, such as those that control eyes and eyelid movements, facial expression, talking, chewing and swallowing are often involved in this disorder. In addition, the muscles that control breathing, neck, and limb movements may also be affected.
Due to myasthenia gravis, I had developed ocular symptoms, such as ptosis (drooping of eyelids) and diplopia (double vision), and weak neck and limb muscles. Fortunately, I did not have weakness of the pharynx muscles, which could cause difficulty in chewing and swallowing, as well as slurred speech in many cases of myasthenia gravis.
I was prescribed steroid medications and had been on a steroid therapy for three years. In addition, I was also given medications to deal with bone loss and other side adverse effects associated with the use of steroids.
In my case, there was some improvement, but not significant enough to make me decide to continue the steroid therapy after three years of treatment. I had to balance the risks of steroids and the symptoms of myasthenia gravis.
My rude awakening came when I realized that my immune system, which was the cause of the disease in the first place, is not only an integrated network of cells that would protect me in times of an infection, but also a system with many regulatory mechanisms that, if uncontrolled, would become my enemy instead of my friend. More importantly, these steroids may control the symptoms of myasthenia gravis, but they may also impair my immune system with lasting effects on my overall health and wellness further down the road.
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