Steroid Taper Guidelines

Prolonged exposure to supra-physiologic doses of glucocorticoids (GCs) can suppresses the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, requiring steroid weaning to prevent signs/symptoms of cortisol deficiency.

Limited evidence exists to guide wean speed and duration. Acute signs/symptoms of adrenal insufficiency: lethargy, anorexia, abdominal pain, vomiting, dehydration, tachycardia, hypotension, cyanosis, cold skin, hyponatremia with or without hypokalemia, metabolic acidosis, hypoglycemia. A simplified approach to tapering steroids after either short-term or long term steroid exposure.

Predicting Adrenal Insufficiency Risk

AI RiskRisk factorsTapering Guidelines
Low RiskLESS THAN 2 weeks (14 days) of GC exposure.
NOT critically ill (vasopressors and/or mechanically ventilated)
Stop GCs (or return to home physiologic replacement dose) with NO taper. If taper requested, taper by 25% of reference dose every 2-3 days
Possible Risk2 – 3 weeks (14-21 days) of GC exposure.
LESS THAN 2 weeks (14 days) of GC exposure AND critically ill (vasopressors and/or mechanically ventilated)
Taper by 25% of reference dose every 4-7 days. Slow the speed of glucocorticoid taper if signs/symptoms of adrenal insufficiency occur
High RiskGREATER THAN 3 weeks (21 days) of GC exposureStrongly consider ACTH stim test.
GREATER THAN 18 = normal (should not require steroid wean)
15 – 18 = call endocrinology
LESS THAN 15 = suppressed (will require steroid wean)


Tapering schedules after short-term steroid exposure

Any patient with <3 weeks of glucocorticoid treatment is unlikely to have clinically significant adrenal suppression. If the medical condition allows it, glucocorticoid treatment can be stopped acutely. It should be noted that significant stress within one week of stopping steroids should, however, be covered with glucocorticoids.

Exceptions to the above general rule….

  1. Patients with other possible reasons for adrenal insufficiency
  2. Received >40mg prednisolone (or equivalent)
  3. Evening doses of hydrocortisone (Due to greater Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis suppression)
  4. Short courses prescribed within 1 year of cessation of long-term steroid therapy

Tapering schedules after long-term steroid exposure

Supraphysiological doses of steroids refer to >5mg of prednisone or the equivalent of glucocorticoid (see the steroid conversion table). Patients exposed to a cumulatively high dose of steroids or a longer duration of exposure require a slower taper of steroids.

Dose reduction depends on disease activity. (If the underlying disease has resolved, reduce prednisone by 2.5mg every 3-5 days till a dose of 5mg prednisone steroid equivalent is reached. Next...

Once a daily equivalent dose of 5mg is reached (rate of reduction should be slower to allow recovery of HPA axis). Next...

Consider switching to PO hydrocortisone (average BSA estimate of 20mg daily in the morning only). This has a shorter half-life and allows recovery of the axis. (less prolonged suppression of ACTH). Next...

  • Daily hydrocortisone dose should be reduced by 2.5mg every 1-2 weeks or as tolerated until a dose of 10mg is reached. Next...
  • After this 2-3 month taper period, a 9 AM cortisol is checked 24 hours after the last dose of hydrocortisone. Then interpret cortisol levels...
  1. If cortisol is >10mcg/dl, then hydrocortisone can be stopped and a cortrosyn test performed.
  2. If cortisol is <10mcg/dl, then continue hydrocortisone 10mg for another 2-3 months and repeat 9 AM cortisol.

If basal cortisol is >14mcg/dl, stop regular hydrocortisone and administer in emergency only. Supplemental stress dose steroids during intercurrent illness are not required.

Steroid Conversion Table

Type of SteroidEquivalent Total Daily Dose (mg)Doses per day

Comparison of Mineralocorticoid and Glucocorticoid Potency of Steroids

GlucocorticoidsEquivalent Dose (mg)Glucocorticoid PotencyMineralocorticoid PotencyHalf-life (hrs)Physiologic Dose
Hydrocortisone201126 - 12 mg/m2/day
Prednisone540.32.51.5 - 3 mg/m2/day
Prednisolone550.321.5 - 3 mg/m2/day
Methylprednisolone45021.2-2.4 mg/m2/day
Dexamethasone0.753004.50.2-0.4 mg/m2/day

Try our Steroid Conversion Calculator. An easy way to convert between various glucocorticoid formulations

Performing the Cortrosyn stimulation Test after a steroid taper

A dynamic test for the evaluation of suspected adrenal insufficiency.
The test cannot distinguish between primary and secondary AI

Limitations of this test

Estrogen in OCPs may increase corticosteroid-binding globulin and thus increase total serum cortisol.
• Low albumin can lead to a spuriously low serum cortisol
• It does not distinguish between primary and secondary AI (normal stimulation test if adrenocortical atrophy has not set in yet)

How to Perform the Test

Draw a baseline serum cortisol (at any time, need not be in the early morning), then inject 250mcg of Cosyntropin(Cortrosyn), IM or IV.  Draw serum cortisol (total) at 30 and 60 minutes.

Interpretation of test results
Peak serum cortisol >18mcg/dL or an increment of >7mcg/dL over the baseline cortisol level rules out adrenal insufficiency. For newer cortisol assays, a level of >14mcg/dl, effectively rules out AI.


  • Campbell AM, Martin JR, Erstad BL. Corticosteroid Tapering Regimens in Rheumatic Disease: A Systematic Review. J Clin Rheumatol. 2020 Mar;26(2):41-47. 
  • Liu D, Ahmet A, Ward L, Krishnamoorthy P, Mandelcorn ED, Leigh R, Brown JP, Cohen A, Kim H. A practical guide to the monitoring and management of the complications of systemic corticosteroid therapy. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2013 Aug 15;9(1):30.
  • Richter B, Neises G, Clar C. Glucocorticoid withdrawal schemes in chronic medical disorders. A systematic review. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2002;31(3):751-778. doi:10.1016/s0889-8529(02)00008-7
  •  Becker DE. Basic and clinical pharmacology of glucocorticosteroids. Anesth Prog. 2013;60(1):25-31; quiz 32. doi:10.2344/0003-3006-60.1.25

This was first published on February 19, 2022 and Last Updated on April 8, 2023 by MyEndoConsult


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About the Author MyEndoConsult

The MyEndoconsult Team. A group of physicians dedicated to endocrinology and internal medicine education.

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