Understanding dexamethasone’s role in treating COVID-19

While the steroid medicine dexamethasone may help people with serious COVID-19 illness, it should only be given to people very ill in hospital and shouldn’t be taken by anyone to try to prevent COVID-19 or for less severe cases.

A new consumer-friendly article from NPS MedicineWise explains what we know about dexamethasone and what its role may be in treating COVID-19.

For some people, the body overreacts when fighting COVID-19, causing such strong inflammation that it damages the lungs and other organs, sometimes leading to death. The early findings from a recent study in the UK show that dexamethasone – a steroid medicine that reduces inflammation – may help protect the organs from these extreme reactions experienced by people in the hospital, needing oxygen or ventilation to breathe. The study, however, showed no benefit (and possibly some harm) for people with less severe COVID-19 and didn’t look at whether it can be used to prevent COVID-19. Like with all medicines, dexamethasone can have unwanted side effects, so it should only be used when the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Never take this, or indeed any medicine in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19 without talking to your doctor. Dexamethasone can cause changes in the immune system and in some situations increase the frequency and seriousness of infections. For this reason, it should only be taken exactly as prescribed. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 remains regularly washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.”

Nerida Packham, Medicines Line manager at NPS MedicineWise and pharmacist

The article is the latest addition to the NPS MedicineWise COVID-19 information hub, and explains what dexamethasone is, what it is commonly used to treat, and what we know about how it could be used to treat COVID-19.

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