How does this medication work? What will it do for me?

Hydrocortisone belongs to the family of medications known as corticosteroids. It is used to treat many different conditions. It works by reducing swelling, inflammation, and irritation or as a replacement when the body does not make enough cortisol. Hydrocortisone is more commonly used to treat allergic reactions, some skin conditions, severe asthma, lupus, and arthritis.

It can also be used to treat steroid deficiency in the body, certain blood disorders, certain types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, and ulcerative colitis.

Your doctor may have suggested this medication for conditions other than those listed in these drug information articles. As well, some forms of this medication may not be used for all of the conditions discussed here. If you have not discussed this with your doctor or are not sure why you are taking this medication, speak to your doctor. Do not stop taking this medication without consulting your doctor.

Do not give this medication to anyone else, even if they have the same symptoms as you do. It can be harmful for people to take this medication if their doctor has not prescribed it.

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What form(s) does this medication come in?

10 mg
Each white, round, scored, compressed tablet, engraved "CORTEF 10", contains hydrocortisone 10 mg. Nonmedicinal ingredients: calcium stearate, cornstarch, lactose, mineral oil, sorbic acid, sucrose, and trace amounts of sodium. Gluten- and tartrazine-free.

20 mg
Each white, round, scored, compressed tablet, engraved "CORTEF 20", contains hydrocortisone 20 mg. Nonmedicinal ingredients: calcium stearate, cornstarch, lactose, mineral oil, sorbic acid, sucrose, and trace amounts of sodium. Gluten- and tartrazine-free.

How should I use this medication?

The dose of hydrocortisone (tablets) varies greatly according to the condition being treated and individual circumstances. This medication should be taken with food to reduce the chance of an upset stomach. Once the condition being treated is controlled, the lowest dose needed to control symptoms should be used.

Many things can affect the dose of a medication that a person needs, such as body weight, other medical conditions, and other medications. If your doctor has recommended a dose different from the ones listed here, do not change the way that you are taking the medication without consulting your doctor.

It is important to take this medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible and continue with your regular schedule. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and continue with your regular dosing schedule. Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed one. If you are not sure what to do after missing a dose, contact your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Store this medication at room temperature and keep it out of the reach of children.

Do not dispose of medications in wastewater (e.g. down the sink or in the toilet) or in household garbage. Ask your pharmacist how to dispose of medications that are no longer needed or have expired.

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Who should NOT take this medication?

Hydrocortisone (tablets) should not be taken by anyone who:

  • is allergic to hydrocortisone or to any of the ingredients of the medication
  • has a fungal infection in the lungs or other organs within the body
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What side effects are possible with this medication?

Many medications can cause side effects. A side effect is an unwanted response to a medication when it is taken in normal doses. Side effects can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent. The side effects listed below are not experienced by everyone who takes this medication. If you are concerned about side effects, discuss the risks and benefits of this medication with your doctor.

The following side effects have been reported by at least 1% of people taking this medication. Many of these side effects can be managed, and some may go away on their own over time.

Contact your doctor if you experience these side effects and they are severe or bothersome. Your pharmacist may be able to advise you on managing side effects.

  • increased sweating
  • redness of face or cheeks
  • upset stomach or stomach irritation

Although most of these side effects listed below don't happen very often, they could lead to serious problems if you do not check with your doctor or seek medical attention.

Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

  • abdominal or stomach pain
  • acne
  • behaviour changes or mood swings
  • bloody or black, tarry stools
  • changes in vision
  • confusion
  • decreased or blurred vision
  • depression
  • excitement
  • eye pain
  • false sense of well-being
  • filling or rounding out of the face
  • frequent urination
  • hallucinations
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • increased thirst
  • menstrual problems
  • muscle weakness
  • pain in arms, back, hips, legs, ribs, or shoulders
  • reddish-purple lines on arms, face, groin, legs, or trunk
  • redness of eyes
  • restlessness
  • sensitivity of eyes to light
  • swelling of the feet, ankles or legs
  • symptoms of infection (e.g., fever, chills)
  • symptoms of low potassium (e.g., tiredness, weakness, tingling or numbness, muscle cramps)
  • thin, fragile skin
  • trouble sleeping
  • unusual tiredness or weakness
  • weight gain (rapid)
  • wounds that will not heal

Stop taking the medication and seek immediate medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • seizures
  • signs of a severe allergic reaction (e.g., hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of the face, tongue, or throat)

Some people may experience side effects other than those listed. Check with your doctor if you notice any symptom that worries you while you are taking this medication.

Are there any other precautions or warnings for this medication?

Before you begin using a medication, be sure to inform your doctor of any medical conditions or allergies you may have, any medications you are taking, whether you are pregnant or breast-feeding, and any other significant facts about your health. These factors may affect how you should use this medication.

Blood pressure: This medication can increase blood pressure, especially when high doses are used. Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure closely while you are taking this medication. Your doctor may suggest diet changes or other measures to keep your blood pressure under control. People with high blood pressure should discuss with their doctor how this medication may affect their medical condition, how their medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Diabetes: This medication may worsen blood sugar control for people with diabetes. People with diabetes should discuss with their doctor how this medication may affect their medical condition, how their medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Illness and surgery: People who take this medication, or have taken other corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) in the last several months, may need additional corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) during times of any unusual stress, such as trauma, surgery, or infection.

Infections: When taken by mouth, this medication may mask some signs of infection and put people at increased risk for new infections. Viral infections such as chickenpox, measles, or herpes can be more serious for people who are taking budesonide. Children and adults who have not had these diseases should take particular care to avoid exposure. If you are exposed to these infections, contact your doctor.

Liver problems: If you have cirrhosis, your doctor may monitor you more closely for side effects.

Medical conditions: People with the following medical conditions should discuss with their doctor how this medication may affect their medical condition, how their medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed:

  • cataracts (or a family history of cataracts)
  • diabetes (or a family history of diabetes)
  • diverticulitis
  • glaucoma (or a family history of glaucoma)
  • high blood pressure
  • kidney problems
  • mental health issues
  • myasthenia gravis
  • osteoporosis
  • stomach ulcer

Medical records: Let all health professionals involved in your care know that you have been taking a corticosteroid.

Prolonged treatment: Prolonged use of corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone may cause cataracts, glaucoma, eye infections, and osteoporosis. Your doctor may monitor you for these conditions during treatment.

Steroid medication use: If you have taken or are still taking an oral steroid medication (e.g., prednisone) during the last several months, consult your doctor before using this medication. If you experience symptoms such as tiredness, headache, nausea, or vomiting while taking this medication, contact your doctor.

Stopping the medication: When stopping this medication after having used it for a long time, reduce the dose slowly as prescribed by your doctor. Stopping the medication too quickly could lead to symptoms including fever, muscle and joint pain, and a general feeling of being unwell.

Tuberculosis: People who have had tuberculosis should discuss with their doctor how this medication may affect their medical condition, how their medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Vaccines: Live vaccines (e.g., BCG, yellow fever, measles, mumps, rubella) should not be given to people taking doses of this medication that are enough to suppress the immune system. Killed or inactivated vaccines may not be as effective for people who are taking this medication.

Pregnancy: This medication should not be used during pregnancy unless the benefits outweigh the risks. If you become pregnant while taking this medication, contact your doctor immediately.

Breast-feeding: This medication passes into breast milk. If you are a breast-feeding mother and are taking hydrocortisone, it may affect your baby. Talk to your doctor about whether you should continue breast-feeding.

Children: Long-term treatment with hydrocortisone may suppress growth and development in children. Your child's growth should be monitored while they are taking this medication.

What other drugs could interact with this medication?

There may be an interaction between hydrocortisone (tablets) and any of the following:

  • aldesleukin
  • antacids
  • anticholinesterases (e.g., edrophonium, neostigmine, pyridostigmine)
  • BCG vaccine
  • clarithromycin
  • echinacea
  • erythromycin
  • itraconazole
  • ketoconazole
  • leflunomide
  • live vaccines (e.g., yellow fever, BCG, measles, mumps, rubella)
  • mitotane
  • natalizumab
  • neuromuscular blockers (e.g., atracurium, pancuronium vecuronium)
  • phenobarbital
  • phenytoin
  • pimecrolimus
  • rifabutin
  • rifampin
  • salicylates (e.g., acetylsalicylic acid [ASA])
  • tacrolimus
  • warfarin

If you are taking any of these medications, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Depending on your specific circumstances, your doctor may want you to:

  • stop taking one of the medications,
  • change one of the medications to another,
  • change how you are taking one or both of the medications, or
  • leave everything as is.

An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of them. Speak to your doctor about how any drug interactions are being managed or should be managed.

Medications other than those listed above may interact with this medication. Tell your doctor or prescriber about all prescription, over-the-counter (non-prescription), and herbal medications you are taking. Also tell them about any supplements you take. Since caffeine, alcohol, the nicotine from cigarettes, or street drugs can affect the action of many medications, you should let your prescriber know if you use them.