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Cortisone Injections Can Have Devastating Effects

People who receive cortisone injections into joints for pain relief may also experience systemic psychological side effects such as insomnia or anxiety.
Cortisone Injections Can Have Devastating Effects
Anaesthetist injecting patient with anaesthetic in hospital ward emergency room operating theater.

What will the doctor offer you if you have a stubborn pain in a joint? Frequently, physicians turn to cortisone injections to ease the pain for a while. Before you agree to such treatment, make sure you are aware that it can cause devastating body-wide side effects. One reader learned that the hard way.

Side Effects of Cortisone Injections:

Q. I had cortisone injections, one in my neck and one in my back, within a month of each other. A few days later I developed severe insomnia. After being awake for nearly 40 hours, I was almost delirious.

Then I developed more symptoms: panic attacks, blurred vision and two weeks of diarrhea. I could not focus during the day. Because I felt foggy, I was unable to study or drive.

I went to the ER three different times. Twice I was diagnosed as having anxiety and palpitations. They didn’t want to hear I am very fit and have never had anxiety. Even my PCP said it was anxiety. So did the sports medicine doctor who administered the cortisone injections.

Finally, I went to the ER where I had worked as a trauma nurse before retiring. The ER doctor said, “You are having an adverse reaction to your steroid injection.” The neurologist she consulted agreed. I was not treated like I was some fruit loop who suffered from anxiety.

Don’t let any doctor tell you cortisone injections can’t cause such side effects, because they do! I will never have a cortisone injection again.

Correcting Misconceptions:

A. People may think steroid injections are localized: that the medicine goes into the joint and stays there. However, blood and lymph circulate around every joint and throughout the body. Your story illustrates that such medications can affect the entire body, including the nervous system. Insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure and trouble controlling blood sugar are just a few of the reactions people may experience from corticosteroids, including cortisone injections. 

Anyone contemplating such injections may want to read about the latest research. In exchange for possible short-term pain relief, cortisone injections can speed the progression of arthritis and lead to loss of cartilage (Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, June 2019). As a result, the patient might need a joint replacement sooner.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Zeng C et al, "Intra-articular corticosteroids and the risk of knee osteoarthritis progression: Results from the Osteoarthritis Initiative." Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, June 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.joca.2019.01.007
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