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Chemotherapy Supportive Care

Brand names:

Decadron®, Dexamethasone Intensol®, Dexpak®

Other names:

Dexamethasone sodium phosphate

Often used for:

Leukemia, Lymphoma, Brain tumors, Side effects of certain cancer treatments

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About Dexamethasone

Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid that is also used as chemotherapy. This medicine may be given in the clinic, hospital, or at home. It is usually used in combination with other medicines.

Dexamethasone may also be used to treat inflammation, allergies and asthma, skin rashes, and adrenal gland problems.

The dose of dexamethasone will change as the patient grows. If families are concerned about a patient’s new tablet or dose, they should contact the pharmacy to make sure the patient is taking the right dose and tablet strength.

Urine and blood tests may be needed to check for high sugar levels. Blood tests may be needed to check potassium levels.

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May be given as a liquid into a vein by IV

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May be taken as a tablet by mouth

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May be taken as a liquid by mouth

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May be given as a liquid injected into a muscle

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May be given as drops in the eye

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Possible Side Effects With Short-Term Treatment

  • Heartburn
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain (especially in the face and abdomen)
  • Water retention (that can cause increased blood pressure)
  • Acne
  • Increased hair growth
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Stomach irritation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in personality or mood
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Eye problems (including cataracts and glaucoma)
  • Change in the normal menstrual cycle
  • Increased white blood cell count
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Decreased potassium levels
  • Stinging of eye and change in vision (temporarily after given in the eye)

Not all patients who take dexamethasone will experience these side effects. Common side effects are in bold, but there may be others. Please report all suspected side effects to your doctor or pharmacist.

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Possible Side Effects With Long-Term Treatment

Some patients may experience side effects with long-term use of dexamethasone. These include:

  • Decreased muscle mass and muscle weakness
  • Impaired wound healing
  • Impaired growth
  • Thin, fragile skin
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Avascular necrosis
  • Cataracts
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Tips for Families

Be sure to discuss these and other recommendations with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Dexamethasone can hide a fever. Families should watch for signs of infection. Report signs of an infection to a doctor or nurse as soon as possible.
  • The care team may recommend a low-sodium, low sugar, high-protein diet. A nutritionist can suggest ways to make healthy food choices and manage increased appetite.
  • Patients should wash their face 2 times a day with soap and water to help prevent acne.
  • Sexually active patients should take steps to prevent pregnancy during treatment and for 6 months after completion of therapy.
  • Patients should tell their doctor if they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Dexamethasone at Home:

  • Take with food or milk to decrease stomach problems.
  • For liquid dexamethasone, use the measuring device that comes with the medicine.
  • Give a missed dose as soon as possible. If it is near the time for the next dose, skip the dose. Do not give 2 doses at the same time.
  • Dexamethasone eye drops:
    • Wash hands before and after using drops. Do not touch the end of the dropper to the eye, finger, or other surface.
    • Tilt head back, and use your index finger to pull lower lid down to form a pouch. Gently squeeze the bottle to give the correct number of drops. Close the eye and apply pressure to the inside corner for at least 30 seconds.
    • Wear sunglasses to help with sensitivity to sunlight.
    • Report any eye pain, irritation, or change in eyesight to a doctor right away.
  • Store dexamethasone at room temperature.
  • Do not use the medicine past the expiration date.
  • Follow instructions for safe storage and disposal.