Betamethasone belongs to a class of medicines known as corticosteroids (more commonly called steroids).
Your pharmacist will give you a blue steroid treatment card. Carry this with you at all times.
If you need any medical treatment, make sure the person treating you knows you are taking betamethasone. This is because your dose may need to be increased for a short while.
|Type of medicine||Corticosteroid|
|Used for||Allergic and inflammatory conditions
An inherited disorder of the adrenal glands, called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH)
|Also called||Betamethasone sodium phosphate; Betnesol®|
|Available as||Soluble tablets and injection|
Betamethasone belongs to a group of medicines called corticosteroids. It is sometimes referred to simply as an oral steroid.
Oral steroids like betamethasone are used to treat a large number of conditions. Some examples include autoimmune diseases (for example, systemic lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hepatitis, sarcoidosis); joint and muscle diseases (for example, rheumatoid arthritis); and allergies and asthma. They are also used in the treatment of some cancers. Betamethasone works by stopping the release of certain chemicals in the body which cause inflammation.
Betamethasone is also prescribed as a replacement treatment for people who are not producing enough natural corticosteroid in their bodies due to an adrenal gland disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH).
Before taking betamethasone
Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking betamethasone it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:
- If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
- If you have high blood pressure.
- If you have had a heart attack or have any other heart problems.
- If you have liver or kidney problems.
- If you or anyone in your family has diabetes mellitus or glaucoma (increased pressure in your eyes).
- If you have osteoporosis (weakened bones).
- If you have an underactive thyroid.
- If you have ever had mental health problems such as depression.
- If you have epilepsy.
- If you have had a stomach ulcer or an inflammatory bowel disorder.
- If you have recently had, or are about to have, any vaccinations.
- If you have any kind of infection, or if you have ever had tuberculosis (TB).
- If you (or anyone you are in close contact with) have recently had chickenpox, measles or shingles.
- If you have ever had a blood clot in an artery or vein.
- If you have myasthenia gravis (this is a condition causing muscle weakness).
- If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
- If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine, or if you have ever developed muscle pain after taking a steroid medicine.
How to take betamethasone
- Before starting this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack of tablets, and also any other printed information you have been given by your doctor or pharmacist. The manufacturer's leaflet will give you more information about betamethasone and a full list of side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
- Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you how many tablets to take and when to take them. It is usual to take betamethasone once daily. If you are taking it for an inflammatory condition, it is best to take the tablets each morning after breakfast. If you are taking it for CAH, it is likely you will be advised to take your doses at night.
- Take the tablets dissolved in water, after a meal or a snack.
- If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you do not remember until the following day, skip the missed dose. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
- Continue to take betamethasone unless your doctor tells you to stop. Stopping taking these tablets suddenly will cause problems so your doctor will want to reduce your dose gradually if this becomes necessary.
Getting the most from your treatment
- You will be given a 'steroid treatment card' which says that you are on steroids and contains some important advice for you. It is important that you read this card and carry it with you at all times. It also contains details about your dose, how long you have been taking betamethasone for, and who prescribed it for you. Please make sure that this information is kept up-to-date. If you are having an operation or dental treatment or any treatment for an injury, tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking betamethasone and show them your treatment card. This is because your dose may need adjusting.
- Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress. Your doctor will want you to have tests from time to time to make sure you remain free from some of the unwanted side-effects of treatment.
- Betamethasone may suppress your immune system, so it is important if you become ill that you make an appointment to see your doctor straightaway. Also, if you come into contact with anyone who has measles, shingles or chickenpox (or anyone who suspects they might have them), you must see your doctor as soon as possible.
- Some vaccines are not suitable for you while you are being treated with betamethasone. If you need any immunisations, make sure you mention that you are taking betamethasone.
- If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with an oral steroid.
Can betamethasone cause problems?
Along with its useful effects, betamethasone can cause unwanted side-effects which your doctor will discuss with you. The benefits of taking betamethasone usually outweigh the side-effects; however, they can sometimes be troublesome. Although not everyone experiences side-effects, and some will improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you become concerned about any of the following:
|Common betamethasone side-effects||What can I do if I experience this?|
|Abdominal pain, indigestion, feeling sick||Eat little and often. Stick to simple or bland foods. If you are sick and there is blood present, you must speak with your doctor straightaway|
|Muscle weakness or feeling tired||If this happens, do not drive or use tools or machines until you feel more awake|
|Mood or behavioural changes, especially at the beginning of treatment||If you become confused, irritable or start having worrying thoughts about harming yourself, speak with your doctor as soon as possible|
|Difficulties sleeping, confusion, increased weight, and irregular periods in women||If any of these become troublesome, speak with your doctor|
|Long-term treatment with betamethasone may cause other unwanted effects||If you have any symptoms which are causing you concern, you should arrange to see your doctor for advice|
For more information about side-effects which are possible when betamethasone is taken long-term, see the separate condition leaflet called Oral Steroids.
How to store betamethasone
- Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
- Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
Important information about all medicines
Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.
This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.
If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.
Further reading & references
- British National Formulary; 65th Edition (Mar 2013) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.
Prof Cathy Jackson