Corticosteroids, or steroids for short, are anti-inflammatory medicine prescribed to patients suffering from various ailments such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and urticaria. They are not to be confused with steroids ingested by bodybuilders and weight lifters as they have entirely different results.
There are different kinds of corticosteroids, such as prednisone, cortisone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone. Each is used for a particular type of disease and has its own dosage and side effects. They also have varying levels of effectiveness depending on how and when you use them.
However, as useful as corticosteroids are in treating the body, they come with risks if not taken accurately or without complete knowledge of the drug. This is why it is crucial to understand how they work and what side effects are to be typically expected.
Why are corticosteroids prescribed?
The chemistry of corticosteroids resembles that of cortisone which is a naturally found hormone in the human body. It is produced by the adrenal gland and helps regulate several aspects of the body. When the level of cortisone goes down, this can lead to a variety of health concerns which is when synthetic corticosteroids are given.
Some common conditions corticosteroids are prescribed for include autoimmune diseases, Addison’s disease, atopic eczema, urticaria, and more. In the case of some corticosteroids such as prednisone, they are also prescribed to treat allergies, organ transplants, and also to fight the symptoms of cancer.
How do corticosteroids work?
Corticosteroids essentially work in two important ways. They either help to fight inflammation in the body or to suppress the immune system from attacking its own cells. They are divided into two categories, localized corticosteroids or systemic corticosteroids, and both are used for different kinds of inflammatory diseases.
Localized corticosteroids are used to target specific and identified parts of the body and have an effect faster. These come in various forms, such as creams, lotions, drops, and inhalers. Systemic corticosteroids have to make their way through the blood in the body to reach different organs. They are given in the form of oral medicines like tablets and syrups, injections in the muscles, or through an intravenous (IV) drip. Corticosteroids like prednisone are also given as slow-release tablets as well. In all cases, it is imperative to follow the prescribed dosage and not to take more than what the doctor has told you.
What side-effect should be expected with corticosteroids
Just like any other medicine, corticosteroids come with their own set of side effects that you need to be aware of in order to manage your lifestyle and stay alert of any dangerous levels. Each type of corticosteroid comes with its own kind of side-effect, so be cautious of them.
Corticosteroids that are inhaled can cause difficulty speaking, fungal thrush, sore throat, and minor nosebleeds. If you are given oral corticosteroids, you may experience an upset stomach, glaucoma, high blood sugar, weight gain, thinning bones, bruising, and clouding of the eye lens. Injecting corticosteroids can cause temporary side effects at the site of delivery called post-injection flare.
This may sound like a troubling list, and if you begin to experience any of such symptoms as well as others that occur due to the different types of corticosteroids, do not stop taking your medication. Always consult with your doctor so that the ups and downs can be managed professionally, especially if you are taking long-term medication.
What cautionary measures should you take while using corticosteroids?
When it comes to taking just about any medication, it should be done after properly consulting with a doctor. Once you understand the dosage and side effects, always keep a follow-up in case you start to feel extreme unease. When it comes to safety, corticosteroids are safest when inhaled or injected, but this depends on the medical condition and overall patient health.
There are some conditions in which corticosteroids should be avoided altogether, and those include infectious disease, mental health problems, heart failure, and liver problems, to name a few. Its always advised to be transparent with your doctor about other medications you are taking along with the corticosteroid so that there is minimal risk of any sort of negative interaction. You should also be careful about taking the medication just as it is prescribed, for example, with food or on an empty stomach.
Corticosteroids are a powerful medication that can be life-saving in case of severe illnesses. They help support patient health and quality of life; however, you need to be careful, especially if you are taking them for a long while. Remember to understand your health condition fully, keep your doctor involved at all steps, and the corticosteroid you are taking to stay safe.