Steroids play a vital role in regulating body function. The generic term – steroids – includes naturally formed hormones in the body and synthetic chemicals.
Research conducted as far back as 1972 reported that corticosteroids prescribed for medical conditions and anabolic steroids taken by athletes were leading to symptoms of mental disturbances that included mania, linked to bipolar disorder. Withdrawal from such drugs resulted in depression.
Commonly used steroids include cortisone, mometasone, and hydrocortisone. Medical conditions for which these drugs are prescribed include asthma, hives, eczema, psoriasis, bursitis, and nasal allergies.
DHEA is a steroid hormone that is available as an over-the-counter drug in America. There is at least one known case in which an individual with no previous history of bipolar disorder began showing symptoms of the condition after consuming DHEA. Regular use of steroids is a risk factor for bipolar disorder, and once the body becomes accustomed to a steroid, stopping intake leads to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that may include depression. It is worth noting that apart from duration, the size of a dose can also trigger an episode of manic activity. Anti-inflammatory drugs that contain a higher amount of steroids can result in such a situation. On the other hand, small amounts of steroids found in nasal inhalers do not present such a risk.
Subjects with a history of bipolar disorder should avoid steroids and consider non-steroidal alternatives, at least for minor conditions, such as eye conditions, aches, and pains. Even orally consumed steroids and eye drops can lead to mania or hypomania. Genes play a role in the onset of manic depression, and there is no sense in exacerbating the situation. However, if a person suffering from bipolar disorder is taking medication to regulate mood swings, then he can be prescribed steroids; such medication usually negates the mood-altering effects of steroids.
Animal studies conducted in 2004 have yielded some information on how steroids can cause bipolar disorder. In the study, rats that were given the stress hormone corticosterone showed changes in the hippocampus – the part of the brain that regulates the autonomic nervous system. This resulted in marked changes in behaviour. While there is no research to conclusively prove the role of steroids in initiating mental health conditions, anecdotal evidence and initial research does suggest that steroids are a risk factor for bipolar disorder. These changes in mental health are accompanied by behavioral changes. Bipolars who take steroids should do so under medical supervision and keep their healthcare providers in the loop about their mental and physical health.
In conclusion, it can be said that one-off use of steroids for treating conditions is safe. However, sustained use should preferably be avoided, regardless of whether or not you have bipolar disorder. While the causal nature of steroids in causing manic depression has not been clearly understood, there is enough evidence out there to warn us about its negative consequences.