Dexamethasone (Decadron)

OncoLink Team
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: April 29, 2014

Share article


Pronounced: dex a METH a sone
Classification: Glucocorticoid

About Dexamethasone

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid, similar to a hormone that is made naturally in your body. Corticosteroids (sometimes abbreviated as "steroids") are used to decrease inflammation, (swelling and/or redness) and thus are involved in the management of a number of diseases, including asthma, autoimmune disorders, reactions to medications, and gastrointestinal disorders (colitis), among others. Dexamethasone may be given to prevent a reaction to a medication, prevent or decrease nausea or be used in high doses to treat certain cancers.

How to Take Dexamethasone

Dexamethasone comes as a tablet to take by mouth. Dexamethasone is best taken with food, as it can irritate your stomach. Your doctor will probably tell you to take your dose(s) of dexamethasone at certain time(s) of the day every day. Your personal dosing schedule will depend on what the medication is being used for.

Possible Side Effects of Dexamethasone

There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of dexamethasone. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations as they can help you decide what will work best for you.

Increase in Appetite

Dexamethasone can cause people to be more hungry or thirsty than usual. Drink plenty of fluids and try to make your snacks healthy ones, since there may be quite a few of them!

Increase in Energy

Dexamethasone can give people an increase in energy. They may also develop insomnia, or difficulty sleeping. Taking the medication in the morning may help to prevent this.

Irritability or Change in Mood

Some people report feeling irritable or noticing a change in their mood while taking this medication. If this becomes difficult to handle or if you have a desire to hurt yourself, notify a healthcare provider right away.

Swelling

Patients may notice swelling in their hands and/or feet. Elevating the feet may help to lessen swelling in the feet and ankles. Avoid restrictive or tight clothing that may make it harder for the fluid to drain from the hands, feet, and ankles.

Nausea and Heartburn

Taking dexamethasone with food or milk is generally enough to prevent nausea and heartburn. If possible, take the medication when you can be upright (not lying down) for a few hours after the dose. Avoid things that worsen the symptoms, and try antacids (milk of magnesia and calcium tablets, like Tums), saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms.

Increased Blood Sugar

Dexamethasone can increase your blood sugar. Diabetics should monitor their blood sugar closely and may require higher doses of insulin while taking dexamethasone.

Weakening of the Bones (Osteoporosis)

Long-term use can lead to early osteoporosis. Your doctor may have you get a bone density scan (dexa scan) to assess your bone health if you are on long-term therapy.

Other Side Effects

Dexamethasone can cause delayed wound healing, headaches, muscle weakness, and cataracts (after long-term use). Many patients will notice weight gain, which can be a result of swelling and/or increased appetite. This generally resolves once the medication is stopped.