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June 15, 2004


Question from Ham Lake, Minnesota, USA:

Can steroids cause diabetes?


It’s hard to know to what you are referring. Glucocorticoids are steroids that interfere with how insulin works, causing insulin resistance. If one is prone to develop diabetes genetically, then hydrocortisone, prednisone, dexamethasone and related chemicals all may make diabetes show up in such a susceptible person.

Steroids are also a broader class of medication and include testosterone, estrogen and variants. These are used for hormone replacement therapy if there is gonadal or ovarian deficiency and also as part of oral contraception. Similar to glucocorticoids, sometimes estrogen can produce hyperglycemia in an otherwise susceptible individual. With current low dose estrogen preparations, this is less commonly seen than in the past. Other androgen steroids abused by athletes and in gyms are not likely to cause high sugars, but when these are abused, they are usually abused in enormous doses, nonphysiologically, then, there may be some problems with hyperglycemia.