(MayoClinic.com) Corticosteroid medications — including cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone — have great potential in the treatment of a variety of conditions, from rashes to lupus to asthma. But corticosteroids also carry a risk of side effects. Working with your doctor, you can take steps to reduce these medications' side effects so that the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks.
Corticosteroids mimic the effects of hormones your body produces naturally in your adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys. When prescribed in doses that exceed your body's usual levels, corticosteroids suppress inflammation. This can reduce the signs and symptoms of inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and asthma.
Corticosteroids also suppress your immune system, which can help control conditions in which your immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues.How are corticosteroids used?
Corticosteroid medications are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, allergies and many other conditions. They also treat conditions such as Addison's disease, in which the adrenal glands don't produce enough steroids, and help prevent organ rejection in transplant recipients.
You can take corticosteroids:
Like all medications, corticosteroids carry a risk of side effects. Some side effects can cause serious health problems. When you know what side effects are possible, you can take steps to control their impact on your health.
Side effects of oral corticosteroids
Because oral corticosteroids affect your entire body instead of just a particular area, this form is the most likely to cause significant side effects. Side effects depend on the dose of medication you receive and may include:
When taking oral corticosteroids longer term, you may experience:
Side effects of inhaled corticosteroids
When using inhaled corticosteroids, some of the drug may deposit in your mouth and throat instead of making it to your lungs. This can cause:
If you gargle and rinse your mouth with water — don't swallow — after each puff on your corticosteroid inhaler, you may be able to avoid mouth and throat irritation. Although some researchers have speculated that inhaled corticosteroid drugs slow growth rates in children who use them for asthma, studies show that they don't affect children's final adult height.
Side effects of topical corticosteroids
Topical corticosteroids can lead to thin skin, red skin lesions and acne.
Side effects of injected corticosteroids
Injected corticosteroids can cause side effects near the site of the injection. Side effects may include pain, infection, shrinking of soft tissue and loss of color in the skin. Doctors usually limit corticosteroid injections to no more than three or four a year, depending on your specific situation.
To get the most benefit from corticosteroid medications with the least amount of risk:
Although they may cause a range of side effects, corticosteroids may also relieve the inflammation, pain and discomfort of many different diseases and conditions. If you work with your doctor to make choices that minimize side effects, you may achieve significant benefits with a reduced risk of such problems.
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