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Steroid medicines and behavior


Steroid medicines are used in many treatments at St. Jude. These medicines are used to relieve inflammation (heat, swelling, redness, and pain). They can also prevent graft-versus-host disease after stem cell transplant and treat severe allergies, asthma, nausea, vomiting and certain cancers. These medicines can be very important to your child’s care.

However, steroid medicines do have side effects. These can include changes in your child’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts. This article tells you how steroid medicines can affect your child and how to help.

How steroid medicines affect behavior, emotions, and thoughts

Your child’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts might change when they take steroid medicines. Here are some changes you might notice.

  • Mood changes. Your child might act angry, irritable, depressed, or anxious. They might also have mood swings, where their moods change quickly and often.
  • Behavior changes. They might have angry outbursts, act restless, cry a lot, or act very energetic or happy.
  • Thinking problems. Your child might get confused easily, or have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. They might also get distracted more easily than usual.
  • Sleep problems. Your child might have difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep.
  • Problems with their senses. They might see or hear things that are not really there.

How to help your child

First, stay calm. Remind yourself that the changes you see are a temporary side effect of your child’s medicine. Here are some ways to help your child cope.

  • Ignore minor problems.
  • Keep your child’s surroundings and schedule as normal as possible. Avoid big changes.
  • Give your child time to calm down, in a quiet place if needed.
  • Encourage your child to do deep breathing and other relaxation activities. Give them love and comfort if they cry or act sad.

Tell your child’s St. Jude team about any changes you notice in your child. You can also ask for help from Psychology or Psychiatry. If your child already saw someone from these departments, make sure your child’s doctor knows about it.

What to expect from Psychology or Psychiatry

Getting help from Psychology or Psychiatry does not mean your child is mentally ill. It also does not mean they will always need mental health care. Psychology and Psychiatry staff can help behavior, emotion, or thinking problems in specific ways.

  • A Psychology staff member can look for ways to manage problems caused by steroid medicines. They might teach you specific ways to cope with changes in behavior, emotions, and thinking.
  • A Psychiatry staff member may prescribe medicine to help the side effects. They can also help your child’s other doctors to manage medicines that affect behavior, emotions, and thinking.


Please tell your child’s doctor, nurse, or social worker if your child takes steroid medicines and you notice any changes. 


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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