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This medication is a corticosteroid hormone (glucocorticoid). It decreases your body's natural defensive response and reduces symptoms such as swelling and allergic-type reactions.

Trade Names: Decadron, Dexasone, Diodex, Hexadrol, Maxidex

Other Names: dexamethasone sodium phosphate, dexamethasone acetate

What Dexamethasone is used for?

  • As an anti-inflammatory medication. Dexamethasone relieves inflammation in various parts of the body. It is used specifically to decrease swelling (edema), associated with tumors of the spine and brain, and to treat eye inflammation.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Found effective for treating COVID-19

It was tested in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom’s national clinical trial RECOVERY and was found to have benefits for critically ill patients.

According to preliminary findings shared with WHO (and now available as a preprint), for patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth.

Oxford University’s RECOVERY clinical trial has also found that low-dose dexamethasone increases the chance of survival in patients with COVID-19 who require respiratory support.

In the study, the drug reduced the number of deaths by one-third for people on ventilators, and by one-fifth for people on oxygen. There was no benefit found for people who didn’t require respiratory support.

How does it work?

Dexamethasone belongs to a class of drugs called steroids. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions, according to Medical News Today:

  • For conditions with inflammation: With certain conditions, inflammation can cause the immune system to be overactive. This can damage the body’s tissues. Steroids such as dexamethasone help block the immune system’s response to inflammation, which helps prevent this damage.

  • For adrenal insufficiency: The adrenal gland helps control certain body functions. These functions include managing blood glucose, fighting infection, and controlling stress. In people with adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal gland releases lower amounts of certain hormones. Dexamethasone helps replace these hormones.

How should this medicine be used?

Dexamethasone comes as a tablet and a solution to take by mouth. Your doctor will prescribe a dosing schedule that is best for you. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Take dexamethasone exactly as directed. Do not take more or less of it or take it more often than prescribed by your doctor, according to Medline Plus.

Do not stop taking dexamethasone without talking to your doctor. Stopping the drug abruptly can cause loss of appetite, upset stomach, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, headache, fever, joint and muscle pain, peeling skin, and weight loss. If you take large doses for a long time, your doctor probably will decrease your dose gradually to allow your body to adjust before stopping the drug completely. Watch for these side effects if you are gradually decreasing your dose and after you stop taking the tablets or oral liquid, even if you switch to an inhalation corticosteroid medication. If these problems occur, call your doctor immediately. You may need to increase your dose of tablets or liquid temporarily or start taking them again.

Important Warnings!!!

DO NOT use this medication to treat COVID-19 unless your doctor recommends that you do so. If you have questions about the use of dexamethasone for COVID-19, talk with your doctor.

Allergic reaction: Dexamethasone may cause an allergic reaction in rare cases. If you have trouble breathing, a rash, or itchy skin, or notice swelling of your arms, feet, or tongue, call your doctor immediately. Call 911 if your symptoms feel life threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.

Heart damage: If you’ve recently had a heart attack, you may be at increased risk for further heart damage from this drug. Before starting this drug, be sure your doctor knows you’ve had a heart attack.

Infection: Dexamethasone can cover up or worsen certain infections. In addition, infections can develop during treatment. Don’t use this drug if you have fungal infections, or a history of parasite infections or tuberculosis. Tell your doctor about any past illnesses or infections.

Eye problems: Using dexamethasone for long periods can lead to eye problems such as cataracts or glaucoma. The drug may also cause damage to the optic nerves, or fungal or viral eye infections.

Measles or chickenpox: Tell your doctor if you haven’t had chickenpox or measles, or if you haven’t had the vaccines to prevent them. You could have more serious versions of these illnesses if you have them while taking dexamethasone.

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