Decadron Side Effects

by on January 1, 2012


Approximately 30% of patients taking Decadron (Dexamethasone) may experience one or more combination of side effects.  Commonly experienced Decadron side effects include stomach upset, heartburn, transient elevated blood glucose levels and headaches, although many other adverse effects are often encountered.

Common Decadron Side Effects

Drugs that alter the functioning of the Hypothalamic- Pituitary axis normally come with a wide range of possible side effects, and with Decadron being one of the more potent synthetic agents available it follows that the incidence is relatively greater. These side effects are commonly encountered;

  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Vomiting
  • Suppressed wound healing
  • Thinning of skin, acne
  • Loss of balance , migraine headaches
  • Redistribution of body fat( to areas such as breasts, arms and thighs)
  • Loss of muscle tone

Although these side effects are considered mild in comparison of the rest, they do result in loss of work hours for a relatively large percent of the population. However, with adequate symptomatic treatment, they can be effectively managed

Serious Decadron side effects

Decadron Side Effects

The following symptoms should merit medical attention, even though they may not be deemed life threatening. It is best to report any such occurrences no later than 24 hours after first encountered;

  • Persistent insomnia( inability to sleep)
  • Severe, sudden oedema of the feet ( swelling with water retention)
  • Extreme joint and bone pains
  • Palpitations
  • Very high fever
  • Pain and inability to urinate
  • Tar colored stool
  • Unexplained chest pains
  • Rapid increase in blood pressure
  • Frequent, intense leg cramps

Side effects classified by organ system


Common cardiovascular events stem apparently because of Decadron’s ability to cause water retention. Water retention is responsible for the increases in blood pressure observed with Decadron, along with scattered cases of heart failure, which occurs due to the inability of the heart to meet rising demand. Other effects encountered include cardiac hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart in an attempt to increase cardiac output), syncope (fainting), thromboembolic events (strokes etc.) and possible myocardial infarction (heart attack)

Endocrine (hormonal)

Endocrine effects are very pronounced in many individuals, with common development of the “Cushingoid Syndrome”, during which fat redistributes itself from the peripheral sites to central areas, resulting in a “buffalo hump” appearance, with excessive fat on the trapezius muscle and upper latissimus area. In children Decadron use may result in closure of the epiphyseal plates, leading to retardation in vertical growth. In addition, it may result in onset of menopause in teenage girls, impotence in males, decreased sensitivity of the pituitary to endogenous cortisol release and development of latent or borderline diabetes into fully diagnosed type 1 or 2 diabetes


Gastrointestinal side effects often occur as a result of Decadron’s suppressive effect on Prostaglandins, chemical mediators that exert a protective effect on the intestinal wall linings. Common adverse effects while being treated with Decadron include gastric ulceration, nausea and vomiting, distended abdominal organs, possible haemorrhage and perforation of intestines, and inflammation of the pancreas

Skeletal and muscular

There are side effects relating to the chemistry of Decadron, such as muscle atrophy, increased bone fractures and osteoporosis related injuries, and tendon and ligament tear/rupture. And then there are effects associated with injecting a steroid into the body, such as extravasation reactions (death of adjacent tissue due to leakage of some drug), muscle inflammation and scarring at the injection site

Nervous system

Nervous system effects may be due to suppression of Hypothalamic-Pituitary axis, responsible for the body’s circadian rhythm among other things. Symptoms such as malaise, dizziness and migraines are postulated as due to this effect. However, other side effects such as hiccups, postural hypotension, and increased suicidal thoughts are not known to be triggered by this mechanism


These side effects are due to the suppressive nature of Decadron on the immune system, and associated histamine inhibition. Side effects such as thinning and fragile skin, urticaria, dermatitis, inhibition of wound healing, alopecia androgenetica and unexplained rashes are all common happenings.


Adverse effects relating to this system include painful or difficult urination, irregularities in menstrual cycle, reversible impotence in men

Hepatic (liver)

Hepatic side effects are frequently experienced following oral administration of Decadron, as injectable preparations bypass hepatic circulation and are not subject to regulation by the liver. There have been reports of Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver), and rarely hepatitis of the liver.

Renal (kidney)

Renal adverse effects are experienced because of the ability of Decadron to cause fluid retention. Also common is sodium retention, and sometimes deadly potassium depletion.