Dexamethasone (Generic Name)

Other Names: Decadron®

About This Drug

Dexamethasone is used to treat cancer. This drug is given intravenously (IV), orally, or as an eye drop. 

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Skin and tissue reactions, including rash, acne, or facial redness
  • Headache
  • Increase in facial hair
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increase in sweating
  • Aggravation of stomach ulcers; stomach pain or burning
  • Swelling of hands, feet, face, or trunk
  • Changes in mood, which may include depression or a feeling of extreme well-being
  • You may experience an increase in blood sugar. Your blood glucose level may be checked as needed.
  • Impaired wound healing
  • High blood pressure
  • Blurred vision (especially if using the eye drops)
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness, nervousness, irritability
  • Trouble sleeping, nightmares

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • You might experience a decrease in the number of platelets. This can increase your risk of bleeding. You may have bruising.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Blood clot in an arm or leg
  • Urinating more often or in greater amounts
  • Seizures
  • You could experience changes in liver enzymes. Liver enzymes will be checked as needed.

Sexual Problems and Reproduction Concerns

  • In men and women both, this drug may temporarily or permanently affect your ability to have children. This cannot be determined before your therapy. In men, this drug may interfere with your ability to make sperm, but it should not change your ability to have sexual relations. In women, menstrual bleeding may become irregular or stop while you are receiving this drug. Do not assume that you cannot become pregnant if you do not have a menstrual period. Women may experience signs of menopause like vaginal dryness or itching.
    • Pregnancy warning: This drug may have harmful effects on the unborn child, so effective methods of birth control should be used during your cancer treatment.
    • Speak with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking.
    • Genetic counseling is available to you to discuss the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, a genetic counselor can review the potential risks of problems in the fetus due to this medication if an exposure during pregnancy has occurred. 
    • Breast feeding warning Women are advised not to breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and seriously harm a breast feeding infant.

Treating Side Effects

  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids every day unless your doctor has told you to restrict your fluid intake due to another medical condition. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you vomit or have diarrhea, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medication that is available to help prevent or lessen nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, nasal congestion and/or sinus symptoms.
  • Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry. Ask your doctor for medication if your rash is bothersome.
  • During the IV infusion, if you experience pain, redness, or swelling at the site of the IV infusion, please tell your nurse immediately.
  • Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse if you feel you need help with moods.
  • Wearing sunglasses can help if you are experiencing sensitivity to light. Talk with your doctor about specific steps you can take to prevent adverse effects to your eyes while on this medication.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of dexamethasone with food. This drug may interact with other medication. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medication and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are currently taking. The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often unknown. Using these might unexpectedly affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor's advice. Take this drug with meals or a snack to lessen stomach irritation.

Allergic Reactions

Severe allergic reactions including anaphylaxis are rare but may occur in some patients. 

While you are receiving this drug by IV, tell your nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction:

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Feeling like your tongue or throat are swelling
  • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations)
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Flushing/itching/rash/hives

Other Instructions

  • If you realize that you missed a dose of the oral form of this medication and it is the same day that dose is due take the missed dose.
  • If you realize that you missed a dose of the oral form of this medication and it is the next day, skip that dose and notify your physician. Do not take an extra dose.
  • Dexamethasone should be stored in its prescription bottle at room temperature.
  • If you are using the eye drop form of this medication make sure to remove contact lenses and wash your hands before administration. 

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Rash or itching, dizziness or lightheadedness, or palpitations
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Uncontrolled nausea that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • Vomiting more than twice in one day
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Blood in your vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds


Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea of five or six stools in one day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Pain in arms or legs unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Headache unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Yellowing of skin or eyes
  • Excessive thirst
  • Changes in vision, such as blurred vision
  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Rash or acne that is bothersome
  • Swelling of feet or ankles
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Weight gain or loss of five pounds or more in one week

Revised February 2012


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