Can Steroids Cause Diabetes? How Diabetes Can Develop

Posted March 13, 2023 by Michael Chamberlain - See Editorial Guidelines(Last Updated On: March 13, 2023)

If you’re currently taking steroids, then you would naturally want to know what side effects and other factors may appear based on that use, especially concerning long-term use. There may be some link between using steroids and diabetes, which raises the question – can steroids cause diabetes?

In this article, we’ll outline how diabetes can be caused by steroids, the findings of scientific studies that have investiagted this, and what other factors are involved in developing diabetes when using steroids.

Let’s start with a quick summary before we get into the details…

Can steroids cause diabetes? Steroids are used to reduce inflammation but can lead to diabetes, often referred to as new-onset steroid-induced diabetes or NOSID. Those on steroids who are already at high risk of type 2 diabetes or taking steroids for a length of time are most susceptible to developing steroid-induced diabetes.

With the quick answer in mind, let’s dive straight into the details, and first look at what diabetes brought on by steroid use means.

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What steroid-induced diabetes is 

According to experts at the Department of Medicine at The University of Chicago, steroid-induced diabetes mellitus is defined as:  

“An  abnormal increase in blood glucose associated with the use of glucocorticoids in a patient with or without a prior history of diabetes mellitus.”

So with a brief explanation of what steroid-induced diabetes is, let’s move on to whether diabetes can be a side effect of steroids.

It’s also helpful to understand what diabetes is. And also the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Can diabetes be a side effect of steroids? 

According to medical studies, Although widely prescribed for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties, glucocorticoids (a form of steroid) can have several side effects, with hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) being one of the most common side effects. 

The same study concluded that incidences of diabetes mellitus (the official medical name for diabetes)  in patients without a prior history of hyperglycemia after steroid use varies from 34.3% to 56%. 

So can steroids cause diabetes?

Concerning type 2 diabetes, there has been some debate as to whether corticosteroids, which are used in a variety of conditions, ranging from brain tumors to skin diseases, are a cause of developing type 2 diabetes. 

This form of diabetes is more widely derived from steroid use and is known as ‘new-onset steroid-induced diabetes’ or commonly abbreviated as ‘NOSID’. 

The question is also often asked as to whether steroids can advance the development of existing type 2 diabetes.

A scientific study published in 2012, carried out by the University of Sydney, investigated whether taking steroids can cause diabetes.

The study, titled “Steroid-Induced Diabetes: Is It Just Unmasking of Type 2 Diabetes?” found that those who developed new-onset steroid-induced diabetes had lower risk profiles than is typical of people with type 2 diabetes.

Family history and type 2 diabetes 

It was also found in the study that type 2 diabetes is usually related to a strong family history of diabetes. As those in the study who had developed NOSID by and large had less family history of diabetes.

It could be reasonably deduced that if NOSID was simply that of type 2 diabetes uncovered due to factors such as other illnesses present, family history, or one of the other typical factors for diabetes then it should be expected in all groups involved in the study.

So concerning the question – can steroids cause diabetes, these two findings are more consistent with the notion that patients with NOSID have fewer risk factors for diabetes. They only become diabetic under the stress of steroid treatment

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Other risk factors for NOSID 

Those who reviewed the scientific study mentioned above suggested that there are however associated risks with the possibility of getting NOSID, more easily understood as diabetes from taking steroids.

Some of these factors are outlined below. 

  • Obesity: It’s well-known that if you are overweight or obese, you are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly if you have excess weight around the tummy area 
  • Increasing or larger doses: although steroids do have many positive effects, scientific studies have discovered that long-term use can lead to many types of illnesses. These include other types of intention, depression, osteoporosis, renal impairment, gastrointestinal disorder, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • Length of time taking steroids: according to U.K. experts, Type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop following longer-term usage of steroids, such as usage of oral corticosteroids for periods longer than 3 months.
  • Ethnicity: People from Black African, African Caribbean, and South Asian backgrounds are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Age: Experts tell us that It’s possible to develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. However, type 2 diabetes occurs most often in middle-aged and older people. You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are age 45 or older
  • Other and underlying diseases: Those who have suffered from high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome, bipolar disorder, and depression song other diseases are more likely to get diabetes 
  • BMI Body mass index Research has shown that BMI along with family history and being overweight gives an increased risk of developing diabetes. Reducing BMI lessens the risk. 
  • Kidney transplant According to medical reports, adverse effects had been found in patients who took steroid after kidney transplant, suggested that up to 10% of those recovering would go on to develop diabetes 

Increased steroid dose may impact NOSID

Studies of renal transplant recipients have shown that the incidence of NOSID increases with steroid dose and is often first detected after increasing the steroid dose during episodes of rejection

How steroid-induced diabetes is treated

The treatment for diabetes you are put on may depend on the extent of insulin resistance and how high your blood glucose levels are. It may be possible to treat your diabetes with diet and physical activity but you may need oral anti-diabetic medication or insulin.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you will need to attend health screenings at least once annually so your health can be monitored and treated appropriately.

How to know if you have steroid-induced diabetes

People taking steroids may notice the following symptoms of diabetes:

  • Feeling more thirsty
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Blurred vision
  • Need to urinate more often 

These symptoms may occur singularly or they may only occur if your blood sugar levels are much higher than normal.

Here’s more information on what life is like living with diabetes.

Will steroid-induced diabetes go away? 

Although some who experienced high blood glucose levels whilst taking steroids may find the symptoms subside after you stop taking them, some may go on to develop type 2 diabetes as a lifelong condition. 

Long-term usage of steroids such as oral corticosteroids for periods longer than 3 months may find Type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop.

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Additional help

As always, we recommend seeking the advice of your doctor if you’re concerned about taking steroids and the risks of developing diabetes.

Regarding any current or potential medications required, Prescription Hope may be able to help further…

If you’re having trouble affording any of your medications, enroll with us and see if you qualify to pay only $50 a month for each of your medications.

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