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What Are Dexamethasone Injections?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Dexamethasone injections are intramuscular or intravenous injections of a powerful steroid medication to treat severe inflammation. A doctor may prescribe this medication if a patient does not respond to other steroids or if inflammation is severe enough to merit immediate aggressive treatment, as in cases of anaphylaxis and shock, where patients need powerful medications to mediate inflammatory reactions. This drug is usually available in a hospital or doctor's office and will be given by a doctor or nurse, rather than being taken at home.

This drug is a corticosteroid with extremely potent properties. A doctor can inject it directly into a site of concern such as a swollen joint or strained muscle, or introduce it into the bloodstream. Doctors may also give dexamethasone in eye drops, nasal sprays, and other formats for different conditions. Before doctors give dexamethasone injections, they screen their patients carefully for any risk factors that might be contraindications. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, for example, should not have dexamethasone injections, nor should people with fungal infections.

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The dexamethasone injections will reduce inflammation, but they also weaken the immune system. Patients on this drug are more at risk of becoming sick and can get sicker than healthy people. It is important to avoid exposure to severe infections and to be attentive for warning signs of disease. Sometimes doctors prescribe prophylactic antibiotics to limit the risk of infection. Patients will also notice slow wound healing while on the drug, and should not receive live vaccines because of the increased health risks.

It is important to be aware that dexamethasone lingers in the body and will reduce pain and swelling. While this effect is normally desired, it can also put patients at risk of injury, because they miss the early warning signs of strained, painful joints. Patients should not perform load-bearing exercise or activities when receiving dexamethasone injections, as there is a risk they could injure themselves and not be aware of it.

A doctor will determine how many dexamethasone injections a patient needs to recover from a medical problem and can administer additional doses if they become necessary. Sometimes the medication is delivered by injection in the first dose, and then can be taken orally to taper the patient off the drug. Patients recovering from episodes of severe inflammation may need to remain on dexamethasone tablets for several weeks after the incident, depending on the nature of the inflammation and the doctor's preferred approach to treatment.

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