The scary short-term steroid sepsis connection

If you’ve ever suffered from a persistent cough, a bad back injury or unrelenting allergies, your doctor has probably prescribed you a dose of short-term steroids.

And you’re not alone…

Millions of Americans take short-term steroids every year to treat acute health issues like back pain, respiratory infections and allergies.

You may have taken them knowing that steroids can have some pretty serious side effects (including compromised bone strength, stomach bleeding and glaucoma, among others).

But you probably figured serious side effects only happen when you take them long-term. What harm can come from taking them for a week or two, right?

Well, the truth is, more harm can come from a short-term dose of steroids than you’d think…

A recent study found that taking steroids for even a few days can put you at risk for three surprisingly serious health complications…

The serious side of short-term steroids

Researchers from the University of Michigan recently found that taking steroids for even a short time can increase your risk of breaking a bone, developing a blood clot or coming down with a life-threatening blood infection called sepsis…

Their study analyzed three years’ worth of health data from 1.5 million adults and found that one in five of them filled a prescription for oral corticosteroids (like prednisone) during that timeframe.

They also found that those who had filled a steroid prescription doubled their fracture risk, tripled their blood clot risk and had a five times higher risk of sepsis within the following 30 days. Their risk for these health complications began to taper off after 30 days, but remained elevated for three months after they filled their prescription.

Now, considering two out of three of these conditions can kill you, and most of the conditions short-term steroids are being prescribed to treat can’t, researchers believe it may be time to turn to safer solutions for your acute ailments and injuries…

“If there are alternatives, we should use those when possible,” says Akbar Waljee, M.D., M.Sc., the study’s lead author. “Steroids may work faster, but they aren’t as risk-free as you might think.”

Steering clear of steroids

Since steroids work by reducing inflammation, there are a lot of much safer alternatives you can use to reduce inflammation naturally and relieve your health problems. Of course, the natural alternative that’s best for you will depend on what you’re using the steroids to treat in the first place.

Since this latest study found that most people who took short-term steroids took them for one of three problems—back pain, allergies or respiratory tract infections—we’ll start with these…

If you’re using steroids to treat back pain, you can try natural pain relievers like the ones Dr. Michael Cutler recommends. You can try stretching and yoga, both of which have been proven to ease back pain. Or you can try these five Harvard-approved tips for reducing back pain.

For allergies, consider eating these seven allergy-fighting foods. You can also try natural anti-histamines like vitamin C, bromelain and quercetin. And definitely make sure you take a daily probiotic during allergy season and beyond…they can help ease the symptoms of hay fever.

If you’re suffering from a respiratory tract infection, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. You’ll also want to follow these tips from Dr. Michael Cutler for beating a respiratory infection.

These are just a few of the natural alternatives to steroids out there. If none of these work for you, there are plenty more to choose from. Just remember, next time you’re doctor writes you a script for short-term steroids, you’ll want to carefully consider the risks, so you can make the best choice for your body.

  1. Common drugs, uncommon risks? Higher rate of serious problems after short-term steroid use — MedicalXpress. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  2. K. Waljee, et al. “Short term use of oral corticosteroids and related harms among adults in the United States: population based cohort study.” — BMJ, 2017.
  3. Corticosteroids — The Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved April 13, 2017.


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and