The long-term use of dexamethasone may result in thrush, bone loss, cataracts, easy bruising, or muscle weakness. It is pregnancy category C in the United States meaning use should be based on benefits being predicted to be greater than risks. In Australia, it is category A, meaning it has been frequently used in pregnancy and not been found to cause problems to the baby. It should not be taken when breastfeeding. Dexamethasone has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects.
Dexamethasone was first made in 1957 and was approved for medical use in 1961. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the safest and most effective medicines needed in a health system. Dexamethasone is not expensive. In the United States, a month of medication typically costs less than US$25. In India, a course of treatment for preterm labor costs about US$0.5. It is available in most areas of the world. In 2016, it was the 259th most prescribed medication in the United States, with more than a million prescriptions.
It is also given in small amounts before and/or after some forms of dental surgery, such as the extraction of the wisdom teeth, an operation which often leaves the patient with puffy, swollen cheeks.
Dexamethasone is commonly given as a treatment for croup in children, as a single dose can reduce the swelling of the airway to improve breathing and reduce discomfort.
Dexamethasone is used in transvenous screw-in cardiac pacing leads to minimize the inflammatory response of the myocardium. The steroid is released into the myocardium as soon as the screw is extended and can play a significant role in minimizing the acute pacing threshold due to the reduction of inflammatory response. The typical quantity present in a lead tip is less than 1.0 mg.
Dexamethasone may be administered before antibiotics in cases of bacterial meningitis. It acts to reduce the inflammatory response of the body to the bacteria killed by the antibiotics (bacterial death releases proinflammatory mediators that can cause a response which is harmful), thus reducing hearing loss and neurological damage.
In brain tumors (primary or metastatic), dexamethasone is used to counteract the development of edema, which could eventually compress other brain structures. It is also given in cord compression, where a tumor is compressing the spinal cord.
Dexamethasone may be given to women at risk of delivering prematurely to promote maturation of the fetus' lungs. This has been associated with low birth weight, although not with increased rates of neonatal death.
Dexamethasone has also been used during pregnancy as an off-label prenatal treatment for the symptoms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) in female babies. CAH causes a variety of physical abnormalities, notably ambiguous genitalia. Early prenatal CAH treatment has been shown to reduce some CAH symptoms, but it does not treat the underlying congenital disorder. This use is controversial: it is inadequately studied, only around one in ten of the foetuses of women treated are at risk of the condition, and serious adverse events have been documented. Experimental use of dexamethasone in pregnancy for foetal CAH treatment was discontinued in Sweden when one in five cases suffered adverse events.
A small clinical trial found long-term effects on verbal working memory among the small group of children treated prenatally, but the small number of test subjects means the study cannot be considered definitive.
Concurrent treatment with live virus vaccines (including smallpox)
The exact incidence of the adverse effects of dexamethasone are not available, hence estimates have been made as to the incidence of the adverse effects below based on the adverse effects of related corticosteroids and on available documentation on dexamethasone.
Dexamethasone was first synthesized in 1957. It was introduced for medical use in 1958.
Society and culture
Dexamethasone is not expensive. In the United States a month of medication typically costs less than US$25. In India a course of treatment for preterm labor is about US$0.5. It is available in most areas of the world.
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^"Prescribing medicines in pregnancy database". Australian Government. 3 March 2014. Archived from the original on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014. Drugs which have been taken by a large number of pregnant women and women of childbearing age without any proven increase in the frequency of malformations or other direct or indirect harmful effects on the fetus having been observed.
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