Betamethasone

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What is Betamethasone?

Betamethasone is a type of medicine which is known as a corticosteroid. Corticosteroids are hormones produced naturally by the adrenal glands which have many important functions, including control of inflammatory responses.

How does it work?

Betamethasone is a synthetic corticosteroid and is used to decrease inflammation. It works by acting within cells to prevent the release of certain chemicals that are important in the immune system. These chemicals are normally involved in producing immune and allergic responses, resulting in inflammation. By decreasing the release of these chemicals in a particular area, inflammation is reduced. This can help control a wide number of disease states, characterised by excessive inflammation. They include severe allergic reactions, inflammation of the lungs in asthma and inflammation of the joints in arthritis.

Betamethasone also decreases the numbers of white blood cells circulating in the blood. This, along with the decrease in inflammatory chemicals, can prevent the rejection of organ transplants, as it prevents the body from attacking foreign tissue. It is useful for the treatment of certain types of leukaemia, where there is an abnormally large production of certain white blood cells. It is also used to treat some diseases which are caused by the immune system attacking itself (auto immune diseases).

Betamethasone is used in much higher doses than the levels of corticosteroids produced naturally by the body, and as such, the usual actions of corticosteroids become exaggerated and can be observed as side effects of this medicine.

Who can get it?

Available on prescription for adults and children over the age of 1 year.

How is it used?

The dose used will depend upon the disease, its severity, and how quickly you get better. The following are for guidance only.
Adults:
Short term treatment: 2000 - 3000 micrograms (4-6 tablets) daily for the first few days, then reducing the daily dose by 250 - 500 micrograms (1/2 or 1 tablet) every two to five days, depending upon the response.
Rheumatoid arthritis: 500 - 2000 micrograms (1-4 tablets) daily. For long-term treatment the lowest effective dosage is used.
Most other conditions: 1500 - 5000 micrograms (3-10 tablets) daily for one to three weeks, then gradually reducing to the minimum effective dosage. Larger doses may be needed for mixed connective tissue diseases and ulcerative colitis.
Children:
A proportion of the adult dosage may be used (e.g. 75% at 12 years, 50% at 7 years and 25% at 1 year).

What are the side effects?

Medicines and their possible side effects can affect individual people in different ways. The following are some of the side effects that are known to be associated with this medicine. Because a side effect is stated here, it does not mean that all people using this medicine will experience that or any side effect.

  • Depression
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Increased pressure inside the eye (glaucoma)
  • Decreased functioning of the adrenal gland (adrenal suppression)
  • Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)
  • Ulceration of the stomach or intestine
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased risk of fractures of the bones
  • Increased hair growth (hirsutism)
  • Yeast infection of the moist areas of the body, especially the vagina (candidiasis)
  • Suppression of growth in children and adolescents
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Acne

Marketed by

Betamethasone is marketed in the UK by Focus Pharmaceuticals Ltd.