Hydrocortisone (tablets)

Sounds like 'HYE-droe-KOR-ti-sone'

Easy-to-read medicine information about hydrocortisone – what it is, how to take hydrocortisone safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicineAlso called
  • Belongs to a group of medicines called corticosteroids
  • Hydrocortisone (Douglas)®

What is hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is in a class of medicines known as corticosteroids, which is similar to the steroid hormones that your body naturally makes. Steroid hormones are essential for your body and if you do not have enough of them, you can become very unwell.

In people whose adrenal glands do not produce enough steroid hormones (such as cortisol), hydrocortisone is used as a replacement treatment. This can happen in conditions such as Addison's disease or it can happen in people who have had surgery to remove their adrenal glands. 

Dose

The usual dose is 10 to 30 milligrams daily, but the dose of hydrocortisone tablets will be different for different people. 

Always take your hydrocortisone tablets exactly as your doctor has told you. The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much hydrocortisone to take, how often to take it, and any special instructions.

How to take hydrocortisone tablets

You will usually be prescribed your hydrocortisone as 2 or 3 doses each day. Usually, the morning dose is larger than the other doses.

Hydrocortisone is best taken immediately after a meal or a snack.

Try taking your hydrocortisone doses at the same time of day each day. If you forget to take your dose, take it as soon as you remember. But, if it is nearly time for your next dose, just take the next dose at the right time. Do not take double the dose.

Do not stop taking hydrocortisone suddenly unless told to by your doctor.

Special instructions

It is important to tell any health professional taking care of you that you are taking hydrocortisone.

Taking hydrocortisone can increase your risk of all types of infections. Tell your doctor if you come into contact with someone who has a contagious illness such as chickenpox or measles, or feel unwell.  

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, hydrocortisone can cause unwanted side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often unwanted side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effectsWhat should I do?
  • Signs of retaining fluid such as swollen feet and ankles
  • Weight gain 
  • This is quite common when you start taking hydrocotisone
  • Whenever possible, sit with your feet up
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness, feeling tired
  • These are quite common when you first start taking hydrocortisone, and usually go away with time.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Changes in mood or behaviour
  • Mood swings, irritability, anxiety, bad dreams
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116
  • Problems with your stomach such as stomach pain, blood in your stool, or dark coloured stool
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116

Learn more

The following link provides further information on hydrocortisone. Be aware that websites from other countries may contain information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

Hydrocortisone tablets for cortisol replacement  Patient Info, UK

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist.