Home Steroid Information Steroids for Pain – the Use of These Medications in Palliative Care

Steroids for Pain – the Use of These Medications in Palliative Care

Posted by admin in Steroid Information Category. Reviewed and Updated: 6 February, 2018

You may be surprised but corticosteroid drugs belong to the group of medications for keeping palliative care. Moreover, the use of them for these purposes is widespread. One Canadian research concerning ambulatory based palliative care about patients, who suffer from cancer, shows that almost a half of all persons administer corticosteroids. The most commonly used medical remedy was dexamethasone. The identic study was held in the EU countries. During it specialists in palliative care prescribed corticosteroids in most cases. As we can see, doctors find steroids very efficient in maintaining the normal life during the last period of the person’s life.

Corticosteroids are used for treating some health issues as well, in particular spinal cord compression, bowel obstruction & increased intracranial pressure. More broad indications are also the sign for using corticosteroids. There are many functions steroidal substances can perform, for example, pain controlling (like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory meds), appetite stimulation, nausea suppressing and fatigue alleviating. Nevertheless, there is small quantity of studies, which prove the efficiency of corticosteroids for using in these cases. Our article is devoted to the role, which steroids play acting as adjuvant analgesic to control pain. The information you will read is based only on the views of the licensed specialists and empirical materials gathered by Melissa Vyvey (2010).

Corticosteroids for pain management


First of all, adjuvant pain drug has to be observed on every side according to the WHO pain ladder to determine the features of meds, aimed at treating pain of different severity – from light to severe. In some patients, pain of mixed bony & neuropathic nature may be observed, some patients develop painful sensations of other nature. Corticosteroids are especially efficient for alleviation of metastasis pain in bones, visceral painful sensations and neuropathic painful sensations. Being adjuvant agents, corticosteroids act as a pain reducers, they also can be combined with opioid antibiotics for achieving action that is more powerful. Besides, corticosteroids are good alternatives to opioids, which have powerful symptomatic effects in addition to reducing pain.

The way in which corticosteroids reduce the pain is the following. Glucocorticoids inhibit prostaglandin formation, due to which the inflammation emerges, and decrease vascular permeability, which in turn leads to tissue edema. Being lipophilic molecules glucocorticoids have a possibility to penetrate into blood-brain barrier. According to some studies, the place where steroidal receptors are found are peripheral nerves and CNS. Due to steroids, the nervous’ plasticity, differentiation, and development occur. There are works that prove that these meds may diminish discharge in the nerve, which is injured. Consequently, neuropathic painful sensations are reduced under the act of steroids.

Dexamethasone is the steroid which is prescribed almost in all cases when this is a need to minimize (kill) painful sensations. Additionally, prednisone & prednisolone are also recognized as efficient painkillers. The beneficial feature of prednisolone is that the possibility of side events in form of myopathy is very small. Dexamethasone, in turn, causes inconspicuous water retention thinks to its small mineralocorticoid effect, unlike other corticosteroid meds. The efficiency of this steroids is also proven by its long period of half-life. Hence, they can be used once a day. There is not certain dose of dexamethasone. It can vary from 2 to 8 milligrams. The forms of applying are oral and subcutaneous. The maximal possible frequency of applying is up to three times each day.

Side effects of corticosteroids when treating pain

There is diverse range of averse events, which steroids for pain can cause. Some of them are not general. For preventing serious undesirable effects from occurring dose lowering is practiced. As researchers say, side effects appear as a result of durable administration of the medical remedy. That is why, it is recommended to use corticosteroids for not long period (from 1 to 3 weeks). As a part of palliative care, steroids are prescribed for rather durable using, especially when there are dismal projections and side effects of steroids are not likely to appear until the patient die. Nevertheless, prolonged use of corticosteroids should be performed under severe control. Unfortunately, there are a lot of reviews about bad controlled corticosteroid therapy during the palliative care.

If undesirable effects aren’t severe of there is a need to continue durable administering of corticosteroids, they can be removed with the help of special medications. If there is a risk that gastric bleed can occur, gastroprotection are usually prescribed together with steroids. It is a mistakable combo, which shouldn’t be prescribed, because the patient is more likely to get bleeding in stomach when taking nonsteroidal drug against inflammation and steroids. The licensed specialist should mindfully inspect any combination. The approach towards combining steroids with other meds should be very careful.

Discontinuing use of corticosteroids

The 2-week therapy is adequate period of administering steroids without facing any side effects. At the same time in some occasions, corticosteroids in even small doses can lead to problems with HPA axis, which will appear in some time. A taper is needed in case of prolonged therapy. The period of taper (gradual dose reduction) is not still determined and is defined in accordance with therapy duration.