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Generic Name:

hydrocortisone, Oral tablet

All Brands

  • Hydrocortone (Discontinued)
  • Cortef
A discontinued drug is a drug that has been taken off the market due to safety issues, shortage of raw materials, or low market demand.
SECTION 1 of 5

Highlights for hydrocortisone

Oral tablet
1

Hydrocortisone is an oral drug used to treat adrenocortical deficiency, swelling and inflammation, and to slow down your immune system.

2

This medication increases your risk of infection. Your risk is highest if you take large doses, because they can lower your immune system.

3

Hydrocortisone dosage can range from 20–240 mg every day, depending on your condition and how severe it is.

4

Common side effects include headaches, increased appetite, nausea, skin problems, acne, and thin and shiny skin.

5

Using this medication long term may cause increased blood sugar, high blood pressure, cataracts, glaucoma, and slowed growth in children and in some adolescents.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

May increase infection risk

Your risk is highest if you take large doses, because they can lower your immune system.

Most people shouldn’t get a live vaccine while taking hydrocortisone. Live vaccines include the nasal spray flu vaccine, chicken pox vaccine, and vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

You may still be able to get an inactivated vaccine. However, if you’re taking large doses of hydrocortisone, your body may not get the full benefit from an inactivated viral or bacterial vaccine.

If you haven’t had chickenpox or measles, stay away from people who do while you’re taking hydrocortisone. Becoming infected can be fatal. If you come into contact with someone who’s infected, call your doctor right away.

May weaken infection response

Hydrocortisone can weaken your body’s response to infection. It can also mask the symptoms of an infection. Using this medication may make it harder for you to know that you have an infection. Your body may also have a more difficult time fighting an infection, even with treatment.

Warning for stopping the drug

If you’ve been taking hydrocortisone for a long time, don’t stop taking it suddenly. This can cause withdrawal that can last a long time. Symptoms of withdrawal may include fever, muscle and joint pain, and generalized discomfort. To prevent withdrawal, your doctor will slowly lower your dose of hydrocortisone over time or have you take it less often.

What is hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is a prescription medication. It’s available as an oral tablet.

It’s also available in a generic version. Generic drugs usually cost less. In some cases they may not be available in every strength or form as the brand. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if the generic will work for you.

Why it's used

Hydrocortisone is used to treat adrenocortical deficiency, swelling and inflammation, and to slow down your immune system.

More Details

How it works

Hydrocortisone is a steroid hormone that blocks certain proteins in your body. It works to decrease swelling and stop your immune system from reacting to different triggers.

More Details

Why It's Used

Hydrocortisone is used to treat adrenocortical deficiency, swelling and inflammation, and to slow down your immune system.

It’s approved for:

  • adrenocortical deficiency
  • swelling and inflammation:
    • rheumatic disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis
    • eye conditions, such as severe allergic and inflammatory conditions
    • stomach or intestinal disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and intestinal swelling
    • collagen disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus
    • endocrine disorders, such as thyroid inflammation
    • respiratory disorders, such as Loeffler’s syndrome or inflammation of the lung due to beryllium or aspiration
    • infections, such as tuberculosis, meningitis in tuberculosis, and roundworm infections
  • to slow down your immune system (immunosuppression):
    • skin disorders, such as pemphigus, Steven-Johnson syndrome, exfoliative dermatitis, mycosis fungoides, severe psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis
    • allergies. It’s used as treatment of severe conditions if other therapy doesn’t work. These include allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma, skin reactions, serum sickness, and allergic reactions to medicines.
    • blood disorders, such as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and secondary thrombocytopenia in adults, red blood cell anemia, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, and congenital hypoplastic anemia
  • fluid retention (edema)
  • cancer-related conditions, such as leukemia symptoms, lymphoma symptoms, and hypercalcemia associated with cancer

How It Works

Hydrocortisone is a steroid hormone that blocks certain proteins in your body. It works to decrease swelling and stop your immune system from reacting to different triggers.

It belongs to a class of drugs called glucocorticoids or adrenocorticoids.

Hydrocortisone also affects how your body uses and stores carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and how your body balances water and electrolytes. 

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SECTION 2 of 5

hydrocortisone Side Effects

Oral tablet

Most Common Side Effects

The most common side effects of hydrocortisone include:

  • headaches

  • increased appetite

  • nausea

  • skin problems, acne, and thin and shiny skin

Serious Side Effects

If you experience any of these serious side effects, call your doctor right away. If your symptoms are potentially life threatening or if you think you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

  • allergic reactions, such as:

    • skin rash
    • itching
    • hives
    • swelling of your face, lips, or tongue
    • breathing problems
  • infection. Symptoms may include:

    • fever
    • sore throat
    • sneezing
    • cough
    • wounds that won’t heal
    • pain when urinating
  • mental changes, such as:

    • depression
    • mood swings
  • stomach problems, including:

    • vomiting
    • severe stomach pain
  • changes in vision, such as cloudy or blurred vision and halos around lights

  • pain in your hips, back, ribs, arms, shoulders, or legs

  • high blood Sugar. Symptoms may include:

    • passing urine more often than usual
    • increased thirst
    • feeling hungrier than normal
  • feeling unusually weak or tired

  • swelling of your feet or lower legs

  • seizures

Pharmacist's Advice
Clinical Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy

Hydrocortisone does not cause drowsiness.

Mild side effects may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist If they’re more severe or don’t go away.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss possible side effects with a healthcare provider who knows your medical history.
SECTION 3 of 5

hydrocortisone May Interact with Other Medications

Oral tablet

Hydrocortisone can interact with other medications, herbs, or vitamins you might be taking. That’s why your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. If you’re curious about how this drug might interact with something else you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Note: You can reduce your chances of drug interactions by having all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. That way, a pharmacist can check for possible drug interactions.

Medications That Might Interact with This Drug

Mifepristone

Don’t take mifepristone with hydrocortisone. It can block the effect of hydrocortisone and make it ineffective. 

Seizure drugs
  • phenobarbital
  • phenytoin
  • fosphenytoin

These medications can lower the amount of hydrocortisone in your body and decrease its effect. If you start or stop it while taking hydrocortisone, your doctor may need to change your dose of hydrocortisone.

Antibiotic
  • rifampin

This medication can lower the amount of hydrocortisone in your body and decrease its effect. If you start or stop it while taking hydrocortisone, your doctor may need to change your dose of hydrocortisone. 

Ephedrine

This medication can lower the amount of hydrocortisone in your body and decrease its effect. If you start or stop it while taking hydrocortisone, your doctor may need to change your dose of hydrocortisone. 

Live vaccines

Examples are:

  • nasal spray flu vaccine
  • measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine
  • chicken pox and shingles vaccine

Don’t receive a live vaccine if you’re taking hydrocortisone at high doses for 2 weeks or more. You need to wait at least 3 months after your high-dose therapy is stopped before you can get a live vaccine. You may be able to receive a live vaccine if you’re taking lower doses for a shorter amount of time. Check with your doctor before getting any vaccines.

Inactivated vaccines

Examples are:

  • tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine (Daptacel or DTaP)
  • hepatitis B vaccine (Engerix-B or Recombivax B)
  • pneumonia vaccine (Pneumovax 23 or Prevnar 13)
  • intramuscular flu vaccine

These may not work well to protect you if you’re taking hydrocortisone to lower your immune system.

Anticoagulant, blood thinner
  • warfarin

Combining this drug with hydrocortisone may increase or decrease the blood-thinning effects of warfarin. Your dose may need to be adjusted by your doctor.

Vitamin D and calcium

Hydrocortisone can block calcium from being absorbed by your body and can decrease the effect of vitamin D.

Diuretics

Examples are:

  • furosemide
  • hydrochlorothiazide

Combining diuretics with hydrocortisone can cause you to lose potassium in your urine, which can lead to serious side effects. Your doctor will monitor your potassium blood levels while you’re taking these medications together. You may need to take potassium supplements. 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These include aspirin and salicylates. There are many types of NSAIDs. Other examples are:

  • ibuprofen
  • naproxen

Combining hydrocortisone with NSAIDs can increase stomach and intestine side effects and toxicity. You may be at a higher risk of ulcers and bleeding.

Heart drug
  • digoxin

Taking digoxin with hydrocortisone may increase your risk of  changes in your heart rhythm. Your digoxin and potassium blood levels may need to be checked and your digoxin dose may need to be changed.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs interact differently in each person, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible interactions. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions with all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.
Hydrocortisone Warnings
infections
People with infections

This medication can cover up (mask) symptoms of infection. It can also make it harder for your body to fight an infection.

high blood pressure
People with high blood pressure

Hydrocortisone can raise your blood pressure levels. Use it with caution if you have high blood pressure or heart problems. Monitor your blood pressure more closely while you take hydrocortisone.

diabetes
People with diabetes

Hydrocortisone can increase your blood sugar levels. Monitor your blood sugar more closely while you’re taking this medication.

glaucoma
People with glaucoma

Hydrocortisone can increase the pressure in your eyes. This may make your glaucoma worse. Your doctor may check your eyes regularly if you take this medication.

stomach or intestinal problems
People with stomach or intestinal problems

Hydrocortisone can irritate your stomach or intestines, which can worsen your stomach or intestinal problems. Don’t take hydrocortisone if you currently have a stomach ulcer.

liver problems
People with liver problems

Hydrocortisone is broken down in your liver. If you have severe liver disease, it may build up in your body and have toxic effects. You may need a lower dose of this medication.

thyroid problems
People with thyroid problems

If you have low thyroid function, you may be more sensitive to the effects of hydrocortisone.

seizures
People with seizures

Hydrocortisone may cause seizures. Your doctor will monitor you to make sure it doesn’t make your seizures worse. 

mental problems
People with mental problems

Hydrocortisone can make mood changes, personality changes, depression, and hallucinations worse. You may need dose adjustments of your mental health medications. 

congestive heart failure
People with congestive heart failure

Hydrocortisone makes your body retain water and salt, which can make heart failure worse. You may need to eat a low salt diet. Your heart medication dosage may need to be changed.

Cushing’s syndrome
People with Cushing’s syndrome

People with this condition already have too much steroid hormone in their body. Taking hydrocortisone, a steroid hormone, can make symptoms of Cushing’s worse.

low potassium
People with low potassium

Hydrocortisone may increase the amount of potassium that leaves your body with the urine. Your risk is higher if you take high doses of the drug. Your doctor will check your potassium levels while you take hydrocortisone. You may need to take potassium supplements. 

ocular herpes simplex
People with ocular herpes simplex

If you have ocular herpes simplex, use this drug with caution. It may increase your risk for perforation or small holes in the outer layer of your eye (called the cornea).

pregnant women
Pregnant women

Hydrocortisone is a category C pregnancy drug. That means two things:

  1. Research in animals has shown adverse effects to the fetus when the mother takes the drug.
  2. There haven’t been enough studies done in humans to be certain how the drug might affect the fetus.

Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Hydrocortisone should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.

breastfeeding
Women who are nursing

Hydrocortisone may pass through breast milk. It can slow the baby’s growth and cause other side effects. Your doctor may tell you to wait at least 4 hours after an oral dose before breastfeeding to decrease the risk of harm to the baby.

Tell your doctor if you’re breastfeeding. You may need to decide whether to stop breastfeeding or stop taking hydrocortisone.

seniors
For Seniors

If you’re a senior, this medication may increase your risk of breaking a bone. It may also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.

children
For Children

Hydrocortisone can delay growth and development in children and infants. Your doctor will monitor your child’s weight and height if they take this medication.

telephone
When to call the doctor

While you take this drug and for up to 12 months after, call your doctor immediately if you:

  • have signs and symptoms of infection
  • have an injury
  • need to have surgery

Tell your doctor if you’ve been around someone who has measles or chickenpox. Hydrocortisone decreases your immune system’s ability to fight infections like these. If you get measles or chickenpox, you may have a severe case that can be fatal.

allergies
Allergies

Don’t take hydrocortisone if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to it.

If you have an allergic reaction to hydrocortisone, there is a chance that you may react to other corticosteroids.

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How to Take hydrocortisone (Dosage)

Oral tablet

All possible dosages and forms may not be included here. Your dose, form, and how often you take it will depend on:

  • your age
  • the condition being treated
  • how severe your condition is
  • other medical conditions you have
  • how you react to the first dose

What Are You Taking This Medication For?

All approved conditions
Form: Oral Tablet
Strengths: 5 mg, 10 mg, and 20 mg
Adult Dosage (ages 18 years and older)
  • The starting dose is 20–240 mg per day, depending on your condition and how severe it is.
  • The starting dose should be maintained or increased until there’s a good response.
  • If you respond well, your doctor may slowly start to decrease your dose.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this list includes all possible dosages. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about dosages that are right for you.
Pharmacist's Advice
Clinical Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy

Hydrocortisone comes with risks if you don’t take it as prescribed by your doctor.

If You Stop Suddenly

Stopping the drug suddenly may lead to a withdrawal reaction. Symptoms of withdrawal may include fever, muscle and joint pain, and generalized discomfort. Your risk is greater if you’ve taken hydrocortisone for more than a few days.

When it’s time to stop, your doctor may decrease your dose slowly to avoid withdrawal.

If You Take Too Much

Taking too much of this medication can be dangerous. If you take or think that you’ve taken too much, get emergency medical help. Contact your doctor, contact the poison control center, or go to the emergency room.

What to Do If You Miss a Dose

If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you can. If it’s close to time for your next dose, contact your doctor or pharmacist. You might need to miss a dose or take an extra dose, depending on your condition.

Don’t take any extra doses without checking with your doctor or pharmacist first.

How to Tell If the Drug Is Working

You may be able to tell if hydrocortisone is working if you notice a decrease in your swelling and other symptoms of your illness.

This may be a short-term or long-term medication.

How long you take it will depend on the condition you’re treating.

Important Considerations for Taking Hydrocortisone
take with food
Take with food or milk to avoid an upset stomach
timing
Take one dose in the morning. If you’re taking it once a day, take your dose in the morning
can crush tablet
You can cut or crush the oral tablet
storage
Store at room temperature: 68–77°F (20–25°C)
See Details
refillable
Prescription is refillable
luggage
Travel
See Details
clinical monitoring
Clinical Monitoring
See Details
diet
Your Diet
See Details
not usually stocked
Not every pharmacy stocks this drug, so call ahead
insurance
Insurance
See Details

Store at room temperature: 68–77°F (20–25°C)

Keep it away from light and high temperatures.

Note: Be careful of moist environments, including bathrooms. To keep drugs away from moisture, store them somewhere other than your bathroom and any other damp location.

Travel

When traveling with your medication:

  • Always carry it with you or in your carry-on bag.
  • Don’t worry about airport X-ray machines. They can’t hurt this medication.
  • You may need to show your pharmacy’s preprinted label to identify the medication. Keep the original prescription-labeled box with you when traveling.<

Clinical Monitoring

Your doctor may check your thyroid and liver function to make sure this drug is suitable for you.

If you’re taking hydrocortisone for a long time, your doctor may:

  • check your eye pressure
  • do eye exams for cataracts
  • check calcium levels in your blood
  • do a complete blood count

Your Diet

Hydrocortisone can cause you to retain salt and water. It can also change how your body handles carbohydrates and proteins. You might need to limit the amount of salt and carbohydrates you eat, take potassium supplements, and eat a high protein diet. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before making any major changes in your diet.

Insurance

To ensure appropriate and safe use, many insurance companies will require prior authorization before they approve the prescription and pay for hydrocortisone.

Are There Any Alternatives?

There are several medications that may be able to treat your condition. Some may be more suitable for you than others. Talk to your doctor about possible alternatives.

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How Much Does hydrocortisone Cost?

Oral tablet

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Lowest price for hydrocortisone

Walmart $21.41
Walgreens $28.07
Rite-Aid $30.83
These prices represent the lowest priced national pharmacies for hydrocortisone on GoodRx. They may be lower than your insurance.

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These prices represent the lowest priced national pharmacies for hydrocortisone on GoodRx. They may be lower than your insurance.

Content developed in collaboration with University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group

Medically reviewed by Creighton University, Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice on May 26, 2015

Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.
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