How Long Do Steroids Stay In Your System?

Does It Matter?

Flovent-Diskus. Photo: © GlaxoSmithKline

Question: How Long Do Steroids Stay In Your System?


I sometimes get asked by patients "how long do steroids stay in your system?" The answer to how long any drug effects your body is what's known as a drug's "half life." In very simple terms, the half life of a drug is the time it takes for half of the drug to be eliminated from your body. Not surprisingly, drugs with longer half lives stay in your system longer.

Drugs with a shorter half life stay in your system for a shorter period of time and may need to be dosed multiple times per day.

While half life is mostly related to the properties of the drug, there are sometimes individual differences between patients that may make one drug work on you for a longer or shorter period of time compared to the average patient. For example, the half life of rescue inhalers like albuterol is in the 5 to 7 minute range while the half life of advair is 5 to 7 hours. A number of different things can affect the half life of a drug including age, gender, liver disease, kidney disease, and hydration.

What Are Steroids?

It is also important to understand what steroids are not. When your doctor talks about steroids that are not referring to the 'steroids' that you hear about athletes taking to improve preformance. In the treatment of asthma steroids are an anti-inflammatory agent.

Oral corticosteroids,  sometimes referred to as oral steroids or even by a brand name such as prednisone, are a group of very strong anti-inflammatory medications that are prescribed when you have a significant worsening of your asthma symptoms. They may be used over several days to help get your symptoms under control.

If your doctor needs to prescribe oral corticosteroids more than once per year, your asthma control is probably suboptimal and you and your doctor need to examine your asthma action plan.

Are All Steroids The Same?

It is important to understand the differences between this group of steroids and inhaled steroids. Oral corticosteroids are systemic-- meaning they reduce inflammation throughout the entire body. Inhaled steroids, on the other hand,  act primarily in the lung.

This difference has important ramifications related to the potenital side effects. Oral corticosteroids have a more significant side effect profile that includes:

  • loss of bone density and possible osteoporosis
  • cataracts
  • glaucoma
  • high blood pressure
  • elevated glucose
  • aggression and behavior changes
  • increased appetite, fluid retention, and weight gain
  • increased risk of infection
  • Depression

It is especially important to mention any recent steroid bursts to all your healthcare providers. The oral steroids may prevent your adrenal gland, where your body's natural steroids are made, from working correctly.

As a result, your body may not make steroids sufficiently during a time of stress and you may require additional supplementation.

Inhaled steroids rarely cause these side effects, but do have local side effects that are easily prevented with appropriate steps.

Patients and parents often have concerns about steroids. If you have concerns than you need to make sure to talk with your doctor as they are often an important and necessary component to your asthma treatment.

What Is Challenging About Your Asthma Right Now?

I want to help you get control of your asthma. What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your asthma right now? You are also probably not the only person faced with the problem. Take a few minutes describing your problem so we can develop a solution together.

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Greenblatt DJ. Elimination half-life of drugs: value and limitations. Annu Rev Med. 1985;36:421-7.

Allergy/Asthma Information Association. Accessed January 16, 2016. A Patient's Guide to Asthma Care.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed: January 16, 2016. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma

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