FAQWhat are risks of oral and topical corticosteroids?


Corticosteroid drugs — including cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone — are often used for treating vitiligo. By mimicing the effects of hormones your body produces naturally in your adrenal glands, corticosteroids can suppress the immune system and reduce the signs and symptoms of many conditions. But these drugs also carry a risk of serious side effects. 

Side effects of corticosteroids

Oral corticosteroids (in tablets, capsules or syrup form) affect your entire body, and are the most likely to cause significant side effects: 

  • Increased risk of infections with common bacterial, viral and fungal microorganisms
  • Cataracts (clouding of the lens)
  • Glaucoma (elevated pressure in the eyes) 
  • Fluid retention (causing swelling in your legs and arms)
  • Thinning bones (osteoporosis) and fractures
  • High blood pressure
  • High sugar levels (a concern for people with diabetes)
  • Psychological effects, such as confusion or delirium, mood swings, memory fluctuations, 
  • Fatique, loss of appetite, nausea and muscle weakness
  • Weight gain, with fat deposits in your abdomen, face and the back of your neck.

Topical corticosteroids can cause:

  • Increased risk of infections with common bacterial, viral and fungal microorganisms
  • Acne
  • Skin thinning
  • Bruising and slower wound healing
  • Red skin lesions
  • Facial flusing 
  • Insomnia

To reduce your risk of corticosteroid side effects, talk with your doctor about ways to minimize side effects. Eat a healthy diet and participate in activities that help you maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones and muscles and improve your sleep. 
Consider taking vitamin D and calcium supplements. 

FAQOther Questions

  • What is vitiligo?

    Vitiligo (pronounced vit-ill-EYE-go) is a relatively common skin disease characterized by smooth, white, painless spots or patches on various parts of the body and hairs above i...

  • How can I cure vitiligo?

    There is no cure for vitiligo, but there are a number of effective treatment options that can be discussed with your GP or dermatologist. The aim of treatment is to stop new pat...

  • How can I explain vitiligo to my children?

    Vitiligo can be puzzling for a child because a person who has it isn't "ill" in a common sense.  To choose the right words to explain vitiligo diagnosis to a child, first consi...