Friday, April 12, 2013

Steroids: a Band-aid Not a Cure


I am on another anti-steroid campaign. I’m not sure that I am capable of re-wording the information to make it more palatable, but I’ll give it a go. For over 30 years we've known that steroids can routinely cause over-activity of adrenal hormones, which produces Cushing's disease. They can also cause muscle wasting, hyperglycemia, water retention, bruising, insomnia, serious mood changes, menstrual problems, impotence, loss of libido, or even allergic shock and diabetes and its evil twin, reactive hypoglycemia. I know because I have both. Like antibiotics, steroids are one of the most abused class of drugs in this country. Daily low doses of prednisone can double your risk of hip fractures and cataracts. I have had my share of fractures and recently learned I have cataracts. Steroid treatment is the cornerstone of managing diseases and conditions where inflammation is the prime issue. Intractable pain is good motivation for steroid therapy. Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disorders respond well to steroids. They have a place in medicine, just not the prime spotlight. Irreversible damage from steroid treatment is no longer the rarity it was when it was used in emergency situations 15 to 20 years ago. Some of the most dangerous among them include: • liver damage, jaundice • Fluid retention • High blood pressure • Increases in LDL (bad cholesterol) • Decreases in HDL (good cholesterol) • Renal failure, • Severe acne • Trembling Men: • Shrinking of the testicles • Reduced sperm count • Infertility • Baldness • Development of breasts • Increased risk for prostate cancer Women: • Growth of facial hair • Male-pattern baldness, • Changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle • Deepened voice Why do physicians make steroids a first line of attack? They give the appearance of the instant miracle cure the patient expects Too many doctors prescribe these drugs and cross their fingers that the patient feels better quickly and find a different practitioner before the next bout. They refuse to believe that steroids can cause the terrible damage that drug companies have long admitted to. Even they can’t give us a line of BS with a straight face when it comes to these drugs because the side effects easily lead straight back to them. The fastest relief is what medicine in this country is all about. (After profits of course). The answer to what ails us is to suppress inflammation and the immune response, working against the body. If there is a fever lower it, if inflammation is present provide steroids to remove it. If it appears we may have a virus or a bacterial infection just quell it with antibiotics. This way of doing things can be effective in the short term, and important in life threatening situations, but potentially devastating in the long term especially when over-used. Many of our most debilitating diseases can be traced to some form of inflammation. Those of us with Multiple Sclerosis are learning this and hoping our doctors follow suit. This type of medical care eventually weakens our immune system making it less effective while the disease burrows deeper into the body and must be dealt with in the future. Doctors seek immediate resolution of present symptoms merely to treat a chronic condition later on. Why do you think so many of us have chronic illnesses? The key is to NOT suppress symptoms unless it it becomes perfectly clear that it is absolutely necessary. Symptoms are a sign the immune system is working and doing its job. We cannot continually weaken he immune system hoping to kick start it further down the road without some unfortunate outcomes.
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