By Tara Baukus Mello
Woman taking pill with glass of water, steroid treatment for IBD

Medically reviewed by Matthew Hamilton, MD

At some point during your IBD treatment, your doctor may suggest steroids to treat inflammation. Here, we’ll share the most common types of steroids prescribed for IBD and their side effects, so you have plenty of information to discuss with your doctor.

How They’re Taken

No matter which steroid is prescribed, you usually will receive it in pill form. However, if your disease is limited to the rectum or lower portion of the colon, then your doctor may prescribe the steroid as a suppository, cream, foam, or enema. People with more severe symptoms can be given steroids via an IV, usually in a hospital setting.

Most steroids are prescribed for a few weeks (maybe up to 6 weeks) for an IBD flare, but ideally not longer, due to the side effects. Each prescription must be tapered off vs. stopped suddenly, so make sure you are following the medication instructions closely.

Common Steroids for IBD

The oldest steroids, which have been used for decades, are the group of prednisone and methylprednisolone (brand names Deltasone®, Medol®, and others) and hydrocortisone (such as Cortef®). These drugs target the entire body and may result in more side effects in some patients.

Budesonide (brand names Entocort® and Uceris®) is a newer steroid that is non-systemic, meaning it does not target the whole body. As a result, people typically experience fewer side effects. Entocort® is used in people with Crohn’s disease who have specific symptoms due to disease in the ileum (the end of the small intestine) or the cecum and ascending colon (the first section of the large intestine). Uceris® is designed for ulcerative colitis patients with disease in the lower portion of the colon. Budesonide is usually taken orally, though Uceris® is also available as a rectal foam.

Side Effects

Common side effects of all corticosteroids include:

  • Increase in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Skin changes, including acne, stretch marks, or red-purple lines

More severe possible side effects can include:

  • Hives
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting that doesn’t go away
  • Black, bloody or tar-like stool
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Blurred vision or eye pain
  • Mood swings ranging from irritability to psychiatric symptoms
  • Increased thirst, especially if it is accompanied by frequent urination

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of these more severe side effects, and also if you are showing signs of developing an infection, such as a sore throat, cough, or fever.

Women who take steroids when they are pregnant have a slightly increased risk of having a baby with lower birth weight and other potential issues, so talk with your doctor if you are pregnant or thinking you might get pregnant while taking these drugs.

When steroids are taken for longer periods of time, there is also the potential for several serious side effects, including high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

Weigh the Risks and Benefits

Even though taking steroids can result in some uncomfortable side effects, as well as some longer-term negative effects, sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks. Bring your questions and concerns to your doctor so that together, you can determine what is best for your personal situation.

Medical reviewer and Oshi physician-partner Matthew J. Hamilton, MD is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Crohn’s and Colitis Center in Boston. He is a leading member of the research team at the BWH Crohn’s and Colitis Center, and has garnered national recognition for his research into the underlying inflammatory processes of IBD.

Oshi is a tracking tool and content resource. It does not render medical advice or services, and it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You should always review this information with your healthcare professionals.