Steroid-Induced Type 2 Diabetes
When you are struggling with an illness like lupus, arthritis or asthma, the medications you take could have secondary effects on your body. What these illnesses have in common is the fact that they are often treated with corticosteroids.
However, corticosteroids can cause patients to develop diabetes by increasing their blood sugar levels to rise to dangerously high levels.
What Are Corticosteroids?
Corticosteroids are designed to imitate the effects of a hormone that is called cortisol, which reduces inflammation and is produced by the kidneys. Prednisone is one of the most commonly known corticosteroids, and is used as a suppressor of the immune system. Corticosteroids are typically used to treat conditions such as arthritis, lupus and asthma, in which the body's inflammatory response contributes to the disease.
Corticosteroids and Diabetes
One of the dangers of using corticosteroids is that they can also cause some people to develop diabetes, as they can increase blood sugar levels. Cortisol, when produced naturally in the body, regulates stress and prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. But it also causes the body to be resistant to the effects of insulin.
In a healthy human body, this is not a typical cause of concern. Yet when the balance between cortisol and insulin is greatly skewed due to the use of corticosteroids, it can cause patients to develop type 2 diabetes as the body is no longer able to pull enough sugar out of the blood.
Furthermore, cortisol can have certain affects on the liver. The liver stores large amounts of glucose as a molecule called glycogen. Cortisol can cause the liver to secrete some of its sugar stores into the bloodstream, thereby increasing blood sugar levels as well.
Diabetes Symptoms and Diagnosis
Usually patients who develop type 2 diabetes due to corticosteroid use do not have any initial symptoms because they develop gradually over time. Some of these gradual symptoms can include increased thirst and urination, which is a response to the kidneys' inability to filter all of the sugar out of the urine.
Over time, patients may also experience fatigue, dehydration and blurred vision. When diabetes is caused by corticosteroids, the condition can be diagnosed by measuring the person's blood glucose levels. The most accurate tests are the fasting blood glucose test and the oral glucose tolerance test. Both of these tests require the patient to fast for several hours to eliminate the effects of food on blood sugar levels.
Blood samples are taken from a patient, and his or her blood levels are measured. People who take the oral glucose tolerance test will have their blood glucose levels measured after ingesting a glucose-rich drink. Patients who have developed type 2 diabetes will have high blood sugar levels on one or both of these tests. If you are taking corticosteroids, it is recommended that you have these tests done periodically to determine if your blood glucose levels are on the rise.
How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
It is important to communicate with your doctor about the effects corticosteroids could have on your body and what preventive measures are available to you. Switching medications or taking a lower dose can help to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.
You can also ask about switching to corticosteroid medications that don't need to be taken orally, which will keep the medications from traveling through the entire body. Lastly, avoiding diets high in sugar and exercising on a regular basis can also help to keep blood sugar levels from rising.