Chemocare.com

Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Hydrocortisone



Trade Names: Ala-Cort ®, Hydrocortone Phosphate, Solu-Cortef ®, Hydrocort Acetate ®, Lanacort ®
Other Names: Cortisone, Hydrocortisone Sodium Succinate, Hydrocortisone Sodium Phosphate

Drug Type:

Hydrocortisone has many uses in the treatment of cancer.  Hydrocortisone is used most often as a supportive care medication. Hydrocortisone is classified as a glucocorticosteroid.  (For more detail, see "How Hydrocortisone Works" section below).

What Hydrocortisone Is Used For:

  • As an anti-inflammatory medication.  Hydrocortisone relieves inflammation in various parts of the body.
  • To treat or prevent allergic reactions.
  • As treatment of certain kinds of autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, asthma and other lung conditions.
  • As treatment for a variety of cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.  
  • To treat nausea and vomiting associated with some chemotherapy drugs.
  • Used to stimulate appetite in cancer patients with severe appetite problems.
  • The lotion (topical) is used in treatment of allergic skin reactions, and relieves symptoms of itching, redness, and swelling. 
  • Also used to replace steroids in conditions of adrenal insufficiency (low production of needed steroids produced by the adrenal glands).

Note:  If a drug has been approved for one use, physicians sometimes elect to use this same drug for other problems if they believe it might be helpful.

How Hydrocortisone Is Given:

  • Hydrocortisone may be given to you in many forms. In a pill form, it is available in 5 mg, 10 mg, and 20 mg tablets. If you are on a daily dose of Hydrocortisone, and you miss a dose, take the dose as soon as you remember. You may be instructed to repeat the missed dose, and continue the medication.
  • Take pills with food or after meals.
  • Hydrocortisone may also be given by injection into the muscle (intramuscular,IM) or into the vein (intravenously, IV), by a healthcare provider. 
  • Hydrocortisone eye ointment, or eye drops, is given to treat or prevent many inflammatory eye conditions. 
  • You may be given Hydrocortisone as a lotion or a cream (topical) to treat skin disorders.
  • The amount of Hydrocortisone you will receive depends on many factors, including your height and weight, your general health or other health problems, and the reason you are receiving this drug.  Your doctor will determine your exact dosage and schedule.

Hydrocortisone Side Effects:

Important things to remember about Hydrocortisone side effects:

  • Most people do not experience all of the Hydrocortisone side effects listed.
  • Hydrocortisone side effects are often predictable in terms of their onset and duration. 
  • Hydrocortisone side effects are almost always reversible and will go away after treatment is complete.
  • There are many options to help minimize or prevent Hydrocortisone side effects.

The following Hydrocortisone side effects are common (occurring in greater than 30%) for patients taking Hydrocortisone:

The following are less common Hydrocortisone side effects (occurring in 10 to 29%) for patients receiving Hydrocortisone:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Mood swings
  • Cataracts and bone thinning (with long-term use)

This list includes common and less common Hydrocortisone side effects.  Hydrocortisone side effects that are very rare, occurring in less than 10% of patients, are not listed here.  However, you should always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.

When To Contact Your Doctor or Health Care Provider:

Contact your health care provider immediately, day or night, if you should experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.4° F (38° C), chills (possible signs of infection)
  • If you feel an irregular or fast heart beat, shortness of breath, or chest or jaw pain, seek emergency help and notify your healthcare provider.
  • If you become suddenly confused

The following symptoms require medical attention, but are not emergency situations.  Contact your health care provider within 24 hours of noticing any of the following:

  • Extreme fatigue (unable to carry on self-care activities)
  • Any unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Black or tarry stools, or blood in your stools or urine
  • Nausea (interferes with ability to eat and unrelieved with prescribed medications)
  • Vomiting (vomiting more than 4-5 times in a 24-hour period)
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness, feeling faint
  • Persistent headache
  • Severe hot flashes or mood swings
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia)
  • Severe skeletal (bone) pain
  • Difficult or painful urination; increased urination, or severe thirst
  • Changes in vision, blurred vision, eye pain, enlarged pupils, discharge
  • Any new rashes or changes in your skin
  • Swelling of the feet or ankles.  Sudden weight gain (greater than 3 pounds a week)
  • Swelling, redness and/or pain in one leg or arm and not the other

Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.

Hydrocortisone Precautions:

  • Before starting Hydrocortisone treatment, make sure you tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking (including prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, herbal remedies, etc.).   Do not take aspirin, or products containing aspirin unless your doctor specifically permits this.
  • Do not receive any kind of immunization or vaccination without your doctor's approval while taking Hydrocortisone.
  • If you have been on Hydrocortisone pills daily, for a long period of time, serious side effects may occur if you discontinue Hydrocortisone abruptly. Do not stop taking Hydrocortisone unless directed by your healthcare provider. Do not change the dose of Hydrocortisone on your own.
  • Inform your health care professional if you are pregnant or may be pregnant prior to starting this treatment.  Pregnancy category C (use in pregnancy only when benefit to the mother outweighs risk to the fetus). 
  • For both men and women: Do not conceive a child (get pregnant) while taking Hydrocortisone. Barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, are recommended. Discuss with your doctor when you may safely become pregnant or conceive a child after therapy.
  • Do not breast feed while taking Hydrocortisone.

Hydrocortisone Self Care Tips:

  • If you are on Hydrocortisone for a long period of time, you may be more susceptible to infection. Wash your hands well, and report any symptoms of infection to your healthcare provider if noted.
  • If you are given eye drops or eye ointment: You may be more sensitive to the light. Wearing sunglasses may help. It is normal to notice a little blurriness for a short time after the drops or ointment are placed in your eyes. Notify your healthcare provider with any changes in vision, blurriness, or eye pain.
  • If you are given eye drops or eye ointment: Ask your healthcare provider if you may wear contact lenses. Contact lenses may absorb Hydrocortisone. Wash your hands well before putting eye drops, to decrease the chance of a bacterial infection in your eyes. 
  • If you are Hydrocortisone as a lotion (topical) to treat skin disorders: Do not apply to open areas of skin, or if you have open or weeping sores. Topical Hydrocortisone should not be used for a long time. Discuss this with your healthcare provider. 
  • Certain brands of Hydrocortisone can be applied to the rectal area to treat hemorrhoids, or local inflammation, either by a suppository of ointment. Make sure that the preparation that you are using was made specifically for the rectal area. 
  • In a pill form: Take Hydrocortisone with food to lessen an upset stomach. Also take Hydrocortisone early on in the day (before 12:00 noon, if possible), so you will be able to sleep better at night.
  • If you have diabetes, Hydrocortisone may increase your blood sugar levels. Notify your healthcare provider that you are diabetic. You may need close monitoring.Drink 2 to 3 quarts of fluid every 24 hours, unless you were told to restrict your fluid intake, and maintain good nutrition. 
  • To reduce nausea, take anti-nausea medications as prescribed by your doctor, and eat small, frequent meals.
  • In general, drinking alcoholic beverages should be avoided.  You should also limit caffeine intake (colas, tea, coffee and chocolate, especially). These beverages may irritate your stomach.
  • If you experience symptoms or side effects, especially if severe, be sure to discuss them with your health care team.  They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that are effective in managing such problems.

Monitoring and Testing While Taking Hydrocortisone:

You will be checked regularly by your health care professional while you are taking Hydrocortisone, to monitor side effects and check your response to therapy.  Periodic blood work to monitor your complete blood count (CBC) as well as the function of other organs (such as your kidneys and liver) will also be ordered by your doctor.   

How Hydrocortisone Works:

Corticosteroids are naturally produced by the adrenal gland in the body. Corticosteroids influence the functioning of most of the body's systems (heart, immune, muscles and bones, endocrine and nervous system).  They exert a wide array of effects including effects on the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats.  They help to maintain balance of fluids and electrolytes.

Hydrocortisone is classified as a corticosteroid (more precisely a glucocorticosteroid), and has many uses in the treatment of cancer.

One way that it works is to decrease inflammation (swelling).  It does this by preventing infection- fighting white blood cells (polymorphonuclear leukocytes) from traveling to the area of swelling in your body. (This is why you are more prone to infection while taking steroids).  Taking advantage of the anti-inflammatory properties of Hydrocortisone, corticosteroids are used to decrease the swelling around tumors.  For example, by decreasing swelling around tumors in the spine, brain, or bone, it can decrease the pressure of the tumor on nerve endings and relieve pain or other symptoms caused by the pressing tumor.

Another way this drug works is by altering the body's normal immune system responses.  Corticosteroids are used to treat certain conditions that effect the immune system such as aplastic anemia (AA), Immune Thrombocytopenia Purpura (ITP), Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia Purpura (TTP), or hemolytic anemia.

In addition, it is thought that corticosteroids may help in the treatment of patients with blood disorders, such as multiple myeloma.  Corticosteroids may work by causing programmed cell death (apoptosis) of certain cells, which may help to fight your disease.

Corticosteroids are also used in the short-term treatment of nausea caused by chemotherapy.  How it does this is not fully understood. They also have been used to stimulate appetite for patients with severe appetite problems.

Corticosteroids are used to replace steroids in conditions of adrenal insufficiency (low production of needed steroids produced by the adrenal glands).

Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.