Adverse Psychiatric Reactions Information Link
Promoting awareness of medicines that can harm mental health

Corticosteroids -anti inflammatory

Corticosteroids Glucocorticoids

Prednisolone/ Prednisone

Deltacortril / Depo / Medrone / Pevanti / There are many more generic and trade names

Psychiatric adverse effects are not uncommon in patients taking corticosteroids. Usually dose related, if serious psychiatric symptoms occur it is not advisable to suddenly stop the medication as sudden stopping or change of dose can trigger, or worsen psychiatric symptoms. Slow reduction and loving care of the distressed patient is needed.  

The dose should be gradually reduced. Medical support should be obtained. It may be necessary to hospitalise the patient for their own safety.  The excessive use of psychotropic medication is not necessary as long as the person can be calmed, possibly with the aid of short term tranquillisers. These become addictive if used for more than about 3 weeks. Most people regain their mental stability as the dose is lowered. A lowering of manic mood may be seen within a few days.

For those needing cortico-steroids long term it is advisable to develop strategies to cope with extreme feelings of distress, anxiety, mania or anger that may occur as the dose is raised.  Finding the optimum level of dose that you can tolerate is of course important and helpful. Once you know this you can warn the doctors to enable better management of the medication and your illness.

Possibly taking up Tai Chi, Yoga, and learning how to relax, meditate and breathe in a rhythmic relaxed way could help at times of medication induced distress. Also to prevent bone wastage it is important to exercise in a way that one touches the ground, walking, skipping, dancing etc

Few studies are carried out and there is little in recent literature compared to the high incidence of psychiatric adverse reactions to corticosteroids.

More information about corticosteroids

The US Mayo Clinic information


Excerpt from the Association of British Industries web site

4.8 Undesirable effects

A wide range of psychiatric reactions including affective disorders (such as irritable, euphoric, depressed and labile mood, and suicidal thoughts), psychotic reactions (including mania, delusions, hallucinations, and aggravation of schizophrenia), behavioural disturbances, irritability, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and cognitive dysfunction including confusion and amnesia have been reported. Reactions are common and may occur in both adults and children. In adults, the frequency of severe reactions has been estimated to be 5-6%. Psychological effects have been reported on withdrawal of corticosteroids; the frequency is unknown.

The incidence of predictable undesirable effects, including hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal suppression correlates with the relative potency of the drug, dosage, timing of administration and the duration of treatment (see 'Special warnings and special precautions for use').

4.4 Special warnings and precautions for use

Patients/ and or carers should be warned that potentially severe psychiatric adverse reactions may occur with systemic steroids (see section 4.8). Symptoms typically emerge within a few days or weeks of starting the treatment. Risks may be higher with high doses/ systemic exposure (see also section 4.5 pharmacokinetic interactions that can increase the risk of side effects), although dose levels do not allow prediction of the onset, type, severity or duration of reactions. Most reactions recover after either dose reduction or withdrawal, although specific treatment may be necessary. Patients/carers should be encouraged to seek medical advice if worrying psychological symptoms develop, especially if depressed mood or suicidal ideation is suspected. Patients/carers should also be alert to possible psychiatric disturbances that may occur either during or immediately after dose tapering/ withdrawal of systemic steroids, although such reactions have been reported infrequently.

Particular care is required when considering the use of systemic corticosteroids in patients with existing or previous history of severe affective disorders in themselves or in their first degree relatives. These would include depressive or manic-depressive illness and previous steroid psychosis.

Caution is necessary when oral corticosteroids, including Deltacortril Enteric, are prescribed in patients with the following conditions, and frequent patient monitoring is necessary.

Psychiatric Adverse Effects of Corticosteroids From the Mayo Medical School (T.P.W.) and Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine,

Rochester, Minn (J.M.B.) Thomas P. Warrington, MD and J. Michael Bostwick, MD


Psychiatric adverse effects during systemic corticosteroid therapy are common. Two large meta-analyses found that severe reactions occurred in nearly 6% of patients, and mild to moderate reactions occurred in about 28%. Although disturbances of mood, cognition, sleep, and behavior as well as frank delirium or even psychosis are possible, the most common adverse effects of short-term corticosteroid therapy are euphoria and hypomania. Conversely, long-term therapy tends to induce depressive symptoms.

Dosage is directly related to the incidence of adverse effects but is not related to the timing, severity, or duration of these effects. Neither the presence nor the absence of previous reactions predicts adverse responses to subsequent courses of corticosteroids.

Corticosteroid-induced symptoms frequently present early in a treatment cycle and typically resolve with dosage reduction or discontinuation of corticosteroids. In severe cases or situations in which the dose cannot be reduced, antipsychotics or mood stabilizers may be required. This review offers an approach to identifying and managing corticosteroid-induced psychiatric syndromes based on the type of symptoms and anticipated duration of corticosteroid treatment.,

In this article, we define clinically significant symptoms as those that disrupt patients' daily lives or cause duress to them or those around them. We characterize mild to moderate reactions as those representing changes in mood or behavior that do not reach the level of a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.

The most frequently identified symptoms include agitation, anxiety, distractibility, fear, hypomania, indifference, insomnia, irritability, lethargy, labile mood, pressured speech, restlessness, and tearfulness. Following the lead of Smyllie and Connolly,8 who in 1968 defined a severe reaction as serious enough to require psychiatric advice and treatment, we define a severe reaction as a constellation of major symptoms consistent with a diagnosable affective syndrome, psychotic disorder, delirium, or another psychiatric condition.

The most commonly reported corticosteroid-induced psychiatric disturbances are affective, including mania, depression, or mixed states. Most often, patients receiving short-term corticosteroid therapy present with euphoria or hypomania, whereas long-term therapy tends to engender depressive symptoms.9 Although mood disorders occur in the vast majority of cases, either delirium or frank psychosis, typified by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thought, is the presenting syndrome in a sixth of patients. Severe episodes of depression, mania, or psychosis frequently include suicidal ideation.


Management strategies for corticosteroid-induced psychiatric disturbances are based almost entirely on case reports, anecdotal evidence, and a few small case series. Understanding of this topic has grown only slightly during the past 50 years.

Psychiatric disturbances that result from corticosteroid therapy commonly resolve slowly after discontinuation of the drug or reduction of the dosage. Symptom duration is highly variable. Patients with delirium commonly recover in a few days, whereas those with psychosis generally take more than a week to return to baseline. Depression, mania, or mixed affective states may take up to 6 weeks to resolve after discontinuation of the offending agent.

Initial treatment of corticosteroid-induced psychiatric disturbances should begin with cessation of the corticosteroids or reduction of the dosage. If cessation is not an option, the dosage should initially be tapered to 40-mg prednisone equivalents per day, followed by tapering to a physiologic dosage of 7.5-mg prednisone equivalents per day as quickly as is safe to do so.

For patients who cannot tolerate corticosteroid cessation or dose reduction or who suddenly develop psychosis, severe agitation, aggressive behavior, or other intolerable symptom complexes, palliative pharmacotherapy is indicated, even though no definitive treatment has been identified. Myriad case reports have shown varying degrees of clinical success with mood stabilizers including lithium, carbamazepine,  and valproic acid, with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) including fluoxetine and sertraline, and with venlafaxine, typical antipsychotics, and atypical antipsychotics.


Although reduction or cessation of corticosteroids is the mainstay of treatment for corticosteroid-induced psychiatric reactions, caution is advised when making substantial or rapid reductions in corticosteroid doses, particularly for patients receiving long-term and high-dose treatments. For these patients, a taper is advised to prevent both physiologic and psychiatric corticosteroid withdrawal phenomena. An inappropriate taper can result in 3 types of difficulties: (1) suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal axis (HPA) with the potential for secondary adrenal insufficiency, (2) recurrence of the disease for which the therapy was initiated, and (3) a corticosteroid withdrawal syndrome characterized by symptoms of adrenal insufficiency but with normal HPA function. Appropriate tapering is critical and should be based on total dosage, therapy duration, and corticosteroid type.

Severe HPA suppression and corticosteroid withdrawal syndrome are both characterized by lethargy, malaise, depression, anorexia, nausea, myalgia, and arthralgias. When corticosteroids are stopped entirely, HPA suppression and corticosteroid withdrawal syndrome can be distinguished only by biochemical testing. In this instance, the corticotropin stimulation test is used to evaluate the integrity of the HPA.

Corticosteroid withdrawal syndrome presents most commonly with depression, anxiety, and fatigue, but mania

Excerpts from and article in the British Medical Journal

Mitchell and O'Keane  BMJ 1998;316:244-245 (24 January)

Glucocorticoid steroids affect behaviour and mood

Adrenal steroids are commonly prescribed drugs, the central effects of which are rarely alluded to in routine clinical practice or systematically investigated in medical research.

Glucocorticoids are important in the pathogenesis of depression, but this potentially serious psychological side effect is often overlooked in clinical practice. Up to 20% of patients on high dose glucocorticoids report psychiatric disorders including depression, mania, psychosis or a mixed affective state.

A recent double blind placebo controlled trial of corticosteroid administration in healthy individuals showed that 75% of subjects developed disturbances in mood and cognition, which reversed when steroids were stopped.

We do not know the characteristics of those who are vulnerable to adverse effects, but those with higher cumulative dosages appear to be most at risk


Reporting Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs)

It is well known that serious side effects of medicines are under reported and the UK regulatory body the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) estimate less than 10% of serious ADRs are reported.

If you are, for no apparent reason, feeling mentally distressed, it may be caused by starting or stopping medication, due to a changed dose, withdrawal effects, interactions with other drugs, or following surgery. You can request a list of drugs used pre surgery and during surgery and those for pain or infection to be taken later.

Some drugs must not be stopped suddenly

If you have suffered psychiatric, neurological or physical adverse drug reactions (ADRs) please report them. There may be adverse effects not mentioned on the patient leaflets (PILs) or data sheets. (SPCs)

You should be given a patient information leaflet (PIL) for all drugs prescribed, either as you are discharged from hospital, or if the pharmacy supplies you from a bulk supply of pills. (EU Directive 1997)

Please report Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs) to:

UK - Yellow Card Reporting for Patient and Health Professional reports of Adverse Drug Reactions you can report to the MHRA using the link


Alternatively, you can call MHRA on 0800 731 6789 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday). Adverse incidents involving medical devices cannot be reported by telephone. Please report online or by email to

USA and worldwide - to the Food and Drug Administration for Patients and Healthcare Professionals

Universal free, independent drug safety website - Rxisk



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