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Kids who take steroids could be at an increased risk for several future health risks

Researchers worry about the long-term effects linked to these types of drugs

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While many kids take steroids to manage conditions like asthma or autoimmune conditions, a new study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University is exploring the effect that they can have on kids’ long-term health. 

According to their work, these types of drugs can increase the likelihood of several future health risks for children, including blood clots, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

“The rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and blood clots from oral steroids have been studied in large populations of adults,” said researcher Daniel Horton. “However, there are reasons to think these findings might be different in children, who not only tend to take steroids differently than adults, but also have much lower baseline risks of developing these same cardiovascular and metabolic conditions. This study allowed us to put numbers on the association between oral steroids and rare, but potentially serious, complications in children.” 

Identifying those at the highest risk

The researchers analyzed medical records from over 933,000 kids between the ages of one and 18 who had been given steroids to treat a number of different conditions. While the majority of the participants were taking steroids to manage asthma symptoms, participants were also given the drugs to control several types of autoimmune conditions, like psoriasis or inflammatory bowel disease. 

The study did reveal a link between steroid prescriptions and an increased risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, and diabetes. However, the researchers found that some kids could be more vulnerable to these risks than others. They explained that for asthma sufferers, these complications aren’t as likely -- but for those with autoimmune deficiencies, these health risks exist both with and without steroids. 

It’s also important for consumers to know that these risks were the most common when children were taking high doses of steroids for long periods of time. This could also be why these complications aren’t as likely for kids with asthma, because they’re typically given steroids for short periods of time. 

Though the researchers don’t want to alarm consumers with these findings, they do hope that they’re useful for parents and caregivers of kids who are frequently prescribed steroids, as they could be helpful in monitoring kids’ health over the long-term. 

“While children receiving high-dose steroids were at substantially higher risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, or blood clots relative to children not taking these medicines, the absolute risk for these complications were still small,” said Horton. “The vast majority of children taking brief courses of steroids for conditions such as asthma, for instance, will not experience these complications.” 

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