A new study, conducted by Rutgers researchers, has found that children who take oral steroids for asthma or autoimmune diseases are at increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and blood clots.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at the records of over 933,000 children in the United States, aged between 1 and 18, with or without autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), juvenile arthritis, or psoriasis.

Among participants without an autoimmune disease, nearly two in three children who received steroids had evidence of asthma.

Study author Dr. Daniel Horton said, “The rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and blood clots from oral steroids have been studied in large populations of adults.”

“However, there are reasons to think these findings might be different in children, who not only tend to take steroids differently than adults but also have much lower baseline risks of developing these same cardiovascular and metabolic conditions,” he added.

“This study allowed us to put numbers on the association between oral steroids and rare, but potentially serious, complications in children,” Dr. Horton said.

The team found that children who received high doses of steroids experienced diabetes, hypertension, and blood clots at much higher rates than children receiving lower doses.

Among all the complications, high blood pressure was found to be the most common one with steroid treatment. These complications were seen more in children with autoimmune diseases, independent of the steroid effect.

Dr. Horton said, “While children receiving high-dose steroids were at substantially higher risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure or blood clots relative to children not taking these medicines, the absolute risks of these complications were still small.”

“The vast majority of children taking brief courses of steroids for conditions such as asthma, for instance, will not experience these complications,” he added. The co-author of the study was Dr. Brian Strom, the first chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.