Steroids have been described as “the sleaziest of modern-day drugs”.
Nevertheless, doctors regularly prescribe them for any inflammatory or allergic reaction rather than as a drug of last resort. Aside from polyamalgia, they are used for skin and back conditions, asthma, eczema, arthritis and bowel problems like ulcerative colitis.
Most doctors work on the assumption that steroids are safe if taken over a short period, but research suggests that serious adverse reactions can happen quickly after treatment has started. One major study found that patients in the Netherlands suffered serious permanent damage to the bone mineral density in the lower spine after just 20 weeks (Ann Intern Med, 1993; 15;963-8) in another case, nine year old Lexi McConnell was dead within five weeks of starting steriods to treat toxoplasmosis in the eye.
Steroids can also stop the pituitary glands from producing ACTH, a hormone that regulates the adrenals, needed by the body during stress and to fight infections. Steroids can even cause the death of the bone itself, requiring a complete joint replacement.