What Are Corticosteroids? Types, Benefits, & Side Effects
What Are Corticosteroids? Types, Benefits, & Side Effects
Corticosteroids are synthetic drugs that are used to treat a wide variety of disorders, doctors often prescribe them to help treat diseases like:
- Hay fever
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Multiple sclerosis
The drug mimics cortisol, a hormone that’s naturally produced by the adrenal glands in healthy people. Cortisol, commonly called the “stress hormone,” it’s involved in a wide range of processes in the body, such as metabolism, inflammation, blood pressure regulation and bone formation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
When corticosteroids are prescribed?
Doctors prescribe corticosteroids for a number of reasons, including:Addison’s disease. This occurs when your body doesn’t make enough cortisol. Corticosteroids can make up the difference.
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Organ transplants. Corticosteroids help suppress the immune system and reduce the likelihood of organ rejection.
In cases when inflammation causes damage to important organs, corticosteroids can save lives. Inflammation occurs when the body’s white blood cells are mobilized to protect against infection and foreign substances.
Autoimmune diseases. Sometimes the immune system doesn’t work correctly, and people develop inflammatory conditions that cause damage instead of protection. Corticosteroids decrease the inflammation and prevent this damage. They also affect how white blood cells work and reduce the activity of the immune system.
The first use of corticosteroids dates back to 1948, when rheumatologists at the Mayo Clinic treated a patient who had debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, according to a 2010 article published in the journal Clinical Chemistry. The patient, who was treated with the then-experimental injectable drug, was able to walk out of the hospital after the third treatment and go on a 3-hour shopping spree, according to the author.
Types Of Corticosteroids
- Betamethasone and
Cortisone was the first corticosteroid drug approved for use in the U.S., which happened in 1950, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Corticosteroids are often used as a anti-inflammatory medications and immune suppressants to treat arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases (including lupus and multiple sclerosis), skin conditions (such as eczema and psoriasis), some types of cancer (such as leukemia), and the aftermath of organ transplant, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Depending on the specific treatment goal of the drug, it may be used orally, injected, inhaled or applied topically, according to the Mayo Clinic. Oral corticosteroids are typically used to treat and help control symptoms of chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, by reducing inflammation throughout the body. Injected corticosteroids treat a specific location, such as inflammation or pain caused by tendinitis in a joint.
Corticosteroids are inhaled to treat asthma by reducing inflammation and swelling of the airways, and they can also help lower the risk or frequency of future attacks. Topical steroids are usually put into creams and ointments to treat and soothe skin conditions.
The immunosuppressive properties of corticosteroids are useful in treating diseases, such as lupus, in which the body’s immune system can’t properly distinguish between healthy cells and harmful ones.
Corticosteroids are often used in conjunction with other treatments of lymphoid cancers, leukemia and tumors, where inflammation is a primary symptom, according to a 2016 article published in the journal Steroids. The corticosteroids prevent white blood cells from traveling to the site of inflammation, decreasing the swelling around tumors and the pressure on nerve endings to relieve pain, according to Chemocare. Corticosteroids are also prescribed to lessen the effects of chemotherapy symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diminished appetite, although how the drugs work in those instances isn’t fully understood.
Corticosteroids Side Effects
Although corticosteroids are effective medications, they can also have serious side effects. This is because hormones are powerful chemicals that influence many different processes, from the strength of your bones to your body weight.
If you are prescribed corticosteroids, the range and severity of the side effects will depend on two factors:
- what type of corticosteroid medicine you are taking, and
- how long you are using it for.
For oral corticosteroids, these side effects may include glaucoma, fluid retention, high blood pressure and weight gain, according to the Mayo Clinic. There can even be psychological effects, including mood swings, confusion and behavior changes, the Mayo Clinic said. Taking the medication long term can also lead to cataracts, high blood sugar and diabetes, increased risk of infection from common bacteria and viruses, osteoporosis, suppressed adrenal-gland hormone production, and thin skin that has higher rates of bruising and slower wound healing.
When inhaled, The short-term use of inhaled corticosteroids means that most people will tolerate them well and have few or no side effects. Long-term use, to treat a chronic condition such as asthma, can cause oral thrush (fungal infections that develop inside your mouth).
Rinsing your mouth out with water after using inhaled corticosteroids can help to prevent oral thrush.These side effects are typically caused when some of the drug lingers in the mouth and throat after inhalation, instead of traveling to the lungs. The risk is typically minimized by rinsing and gargling with water, without swallowing, to clear any residual medication.
Application of topical steroids may lead to thin skin, red skin lesions and acne at the application site in some instances, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The side effects of injected corticosteroids may include temporary skin thinning, skin color loss and intense pain at the injection site, as well as facial flushing, insomnia and high blood sugar.
If a regiment of corticosteroids is prescribed by a doctor, there are ways to help minimize side effects. Patients should be sure to take the medication exactly as prescribed, eat a healthy diet with limited fat and salt and plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and exercise regularly to maintain strong bones and muscles, according to the University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.
Additional resources for corticosteroids finding:
- Learn more about the history of clinical research on corticosteroidsfrom the National Institutes of Health.
- Find out more about corticosteroidsfrom the U.S. National Library of Medicine.