Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid medication. It is used in the treatment of many conditions, including rheumatic problems, a number of skin diseases, severe allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, croup, brain swelling, and along with antibiotics in tuberculosis. In adrenocortical insufficiency, it should be used together with a medication that has greater mineralocorticoid effects such as fludrocortisone. In preterm labor, it may be used to improve outcomes in the baby. It may be taken by mouth, as an injection into a muscle, or intravenously. The effects of dexamethasone are frequently seen within a day and last for about three days.
|By mouth, IV, IM, SC, IO|
|Elimination half-life||190 minutes (3.2 hours)|
|CompTox Dashboard (EPA)|
|ECHA InfoCard||100.000.004 |
|Chemical and physical data|
|Molar mass||392.461 g/mol g·mol−1|
|3D model (JSmol)|
|Melting point||262 °C (504 °F)|
The long-term use of dexamethasone may result in thrush, bone loss, cataracts, easy bruising, or muscle weakness. It is pregnancy category C in the United States meaning use should be based on benefits being predicted to be greater than risks. In Australia, it is category A, meaning it has been frequently used in pregnancy and not been found to cause problems to the baby. It should not be taken when breastfeeding. Dexamethasone has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects.
Dexamethasone was first made in 1957 and was approved for medical use in 1961. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system. Dexamethasone is not expensive. In the United States, a month of medication typically costs less than US$25. In India, a course of treatment for preterm labor costs about US$0.5. It is available in most areas of the world. In 2016, it was the 259th most prescribed medication in the United States, with more than a million prescriptions.
Dexamethasone is used to treat many inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and bronchospasm. Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, a decrease in numbers of platelets due to an immune problem, responds to 40 mg daily for four days; it may be administered in 14-day cycles. It is unclear whether dexamethasone in this condition is significantly better than other glucocorticoids.
Dexamethasone is commonly given as a treatment for croup in children, as a single dose can reduce the swelling of the airway to improve breathing and reduce discomfort.
It is useful to counteract allergic anaphylactic shock, if given in high doses.
It is present in certain eye drops – particularly after eye surgery – and as a nasal spray, and certain ear drops (can be combined with an antibiotic and an antifungal). Dexamethasone intravitreal steroid implants have been approved by the FDA to treat ocular conditions such as diabetic macular edema, central retinal vein occlusion, and uveitis. Dexamethasone has also been used with antibiotics to treat acute endophthalmitis.
Dexamethasone is used in transvenous screw-in cardiac pacing leads to minimize the inflammatory response of the myocardium. The steroid is released into the myocardium as soon as the screw is extended and can play a significant role in minimizing the acute pacing threshold due to the reduction of inflammatory response. The typical quantity present in a lead tip is less than 1.0 mg.
Dexamethasone may be administered before antibiotics in cases of bacterial meningitis. It acts to reduce the inflammatory response of the body to the bacteria killed by the antibiotics (bacterial death releases proinflammatory mediators that can cause a response which is harmful), thus reducing hearing loss and neurological damage.
People with cancer undergoing chemotherapy are often given dexamethasone to counteract certain side effects of their antitumor treatments. Dexamethasone can increase the antiemetic effect of 5-HT3 receptor antagonists, such as ondansetron. The exact mechanism of this interaction is not well-defined, but it has been theorized that this effect may be due to, among many other causes, inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis, anti-inflammatory effects, immunosuppressive effects, decreased release of endogenous opioids, or a combination of the aforementioned.
In brain tumors (primary or metastatic), dexamethasone is used to counteract the development of edema, which could eventually compress other brain structures. It is also given in cord compression, where a tumor is compressing the spinal cord.
Dexamethasone is also used as a direct chemotherapeutic agent in certain haematological malignancies, especially in the treatment of multiple myeloma, in which dexamethasone is given alone or in combination with other chemotherapeutic drugs, including most commonly with thalidomide (Thal-dex), lenalidomide, bortezomib (Velcade, Vel-dex), or a combination of doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and vincristine or bortezomib/lenalidomide/dexamethasone.
It can be used in congenital adrenal hyperplasia in older adolescents and adults to suppress ACTH production. It is typically given at night.
Dexamethasone may be given to women at risk of delivering prematurely to promote maturation of the fetus' lungs. This has been associated with low birth weight, although not with increased rates of neonatal death.
Dexamethasone has also been used during pregnancy as an off-label prenatal treatment for the symptoms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) in female babies. CAH causes a variety of physical abnormalities, notably ambiguous genitalia. Early prenatal CAH treatment has been shown to reduce some CAH symptoms, but it does not treat the underlying congenital disorder. This use is controversial: it is inadequately studied, only around one in ten of the foetuses of women treated are at risk of the condition, and serious adverse events have been documented. Experimental use of dexamethasone in pregnancy for foetal CAH treatment was discontinued in Sweden when one in five cases suffered adverse events.
A small clinical trial found long-term effects on verbal working memory among the small group of children treated prenatally, but the small number of test subjects means the study cannot be considered definitive.
Dexamethasone is used in the treatment of high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), as well as high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). It is commonly carried on mountain-climbing expeditions to help climbers deal with complications of altitude sickness.
Nausea and vomiting
A single dose of dexamethasone or another steroid speeds improvement of a sore throat.
Contraindications of dexamethasone include, but not limited to:
- Uncontrolled infections
- Known hypersensitivity to dexamethasone
- Cerebral malaria
- Systemic fungal infection
- Concurrent treatment with live virus vaccines (including smallpox)
The exact incidence of the adverse effects of dexamethasone are not available, hence estimates have been made as to the incidence of the adverse effects below based on the adverse effects of related corticosteroids and on available documentation on dexamethasone.
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Impaired skin healing
- Increased risk of infection
- Raised intraocular pressure
- Cataract (in cases of long-term treatment it occurs in about 10% of patients)
- Adrenal suppression
- Growth stunting (in children)
- Cushing's syndrome
- Peptic ulcer
- Diabetes mellitus type 2
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Sodium and water retention
- Abdominal distension
- Corneal or scleral thinning
- Skin atrophy
- Psychological dependence
- Vertebral collapse
- Oesophageal ulcer
- Intracranial hypertension (long-term treatment)
- Facial plethora
- Muscular atrophy
- Nitrogen depletion due to protein catabolism
- Allergic reactions including anaphylaxis
Dexamethasone is a synthetic pregnane corticosteroid and derivative of cortisol (hydrocortisone) and is also known as 1-dehydro-9α-fluoro-16α-methylhydrocortisone or as 9α-fluoro-11β,17α,21-trihydroxy-16α-methylpregna-1,4-diene-3,20-dione.
To synthesize dexamethasone, 16β-methylprednisolone acetate is dehydrated to the 9,11-dehydro derivative. This is then reacted with a source of hypobromite, such as basic N-bromosuccinimide, to form the 9α-bromo-11β-hydrin derivative, which is then ring-closed to an epoxide. A ring-opening reaction with hydrogen fluoride in tetrahydrofuran gives dexamethasone.
Dexamethasone was first synthesized in 1957. It was introduced for medical use in 1958.
Society and culture
Dexamethasone is not expensive. In the United States a month of medication typically costs less than US$25. In India a course of treatment for preterm labor is about US$0.5. It is available in most areas of the world.
Combined with marbofloxacin and clotrimazole, dexamethasone is available under the name Aurizon, CAS number 115550-35-1, and used to treat difficult ear infections, especially in dogs. It can also be combined with trichlormethiazide to treat horses with swelling of distal limbs and general bruising.
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