Corticosteroids: Uses, Types, Side Effects, And More

Medically reviewed by G. Liakeas, MD FACT CHECKED

A group of medicines known as corticosteroids is prescribed to treat a variety of diseases that are available in various formulations, including creams, ointments, gels, tablets, and injections.

Corticosteroids are most commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and asthma.

Inflammation is reduced by corticosteroids’ ability to inhibit the immune system. They are typically used for short-term treatment of flare-ups.

Long-term use of corticosteroids can lead to side effects, such as weight gain, osteoporosis, and cataracts.

This article will provide an overview of corticosteroids, including their uses, side effects, and precautions.


A corticosteroid is a man-made form of a hormone that is naturally produced by the adrenal gland.

Corticosteroids are most commonly used to treat conditions that involve inflammation, such as arthritis, asthma, and eczema.

They can also treat other conditions, such as allergies, ulcerative colitis, and certain types of cancer.

Corticosteroids are usually only used for a short period of time, as long-term use can lead to serious side effects.

Types Of Corticosteroids

There are many different types of corticosteroids, and each one has its own set of benefits and side effects.

Some of the most common corticosteroids may include-

  • Cortisol

    Produced by adrenal glands, cortisol is the most well-known type of corticosteroid.

    It is involved in a variety of functions in the body, including stress management and blood sugar regulation.

  • Corticosterone

    Corticosterone is another type of corticosteroid that is involved in the regulation of blood pressure and electrolyte balance.

  • Prednisone

    Prednisone is a type of corticosteroid that is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including allergies, arthritis, asthma, and blood disorders.

    It works by decreasing the activity of the immune system, which can help to reduce inflammation.

    Prednisone is available in pill form, as an injection, and as a cream or ointment. Typically, one or two doses are given each day.

  • Dexamethasone

    Dexamethasone is a glucocorticoid medication mostly used to treat inflammation. It is a synthetic corticosteroid that is more potent than its natural counterpart.

    Dexamethasone has a wide range of uses and is often prescribed to treat conditions such as allergies, asthma, and arthritis. A few forms of cancer can also be treated with it.

    Dexamethasone is generally safe, but like all medications, it can have side effects. The most common side effects are mild and include headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

    More serious side effects are rare but can include problems such as high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

  • Hydrocortisone

    Hydrocortisone is a type of corticosteroid that is commonly used to treat inflammation and other conditions.

    It is a potent medication that can be taken orally, injected, or applied to the skin.

    Hydrocortisone is available in various forms, including creams, ointments, lotions, tablets, and injections.

    It can be used both short-term and long-term, depending on the condition being treated.

Side Effects Of Corticosteroids

Corticosteroid use over a long period may cause the following negative effects-

  • Acne

    Acne is a common skin condition that is characterized by the formation of pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads.

    Steroids and acne are interrelated as their usage might increase the production of sebum, a type of oil that is secreted by the sebaceous glands.

    This excess sebum can clog the pores and allow bacteria to grow, leading to the formation of pimples.

  • Weight Gain

    Weight gain from corticosteroids is usually due to an increase in appetite. When people take corticosteroids, they may feel hungrier than usual and crave high-calorie foods.

    This can lead to weight gain, especially if people do not offset the increased calorie intake by exercising more.

    In some cases, corticosteroids can also cause fluid retention, which can further contribute to weight gain.

  • Bruising

    Corticosteroids work by suppressing the body’s immune system. This reduces inflammation and can help to control several different conditions.

    However, the downside is that it also makes the blood vessels more fragile and susceptible to damage.

    This can lead to bruising, especially if the person is taking a high dose of the medication.

  • Mood Disorders

    Long-term use of corticosteroids can lead to several serious side effects, including mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

    Debilitating and even suicidal behaviors might result from these mental disorders.

    If you or someone you know is taking corticosteroids, it is important to be aware of the potential for mood disorders and to seek help if necessary.

  • High Blood Pressure

    This occurs because corticosteroids cause your body to retain more salt and water than normal. This can lead to an increase in blood volume, which in turn can raise your blood pressure.

  • Diabetes

    Corticosteroids can cause diabetes by affecting the way the body produces and regulates insulin.

    Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to process sugar and other nutrients. When insulin levels are low, blood sugar levels can rise to dangerous levels.

    This can lead to a variety of symptoms, such as fatigue, increased thirst, and increased urination.

  • Osteoporosis

    The disorder known as osteoporosis makes bones brittle and flimsy. It can occur when the body doesn’t make enough new bone or when the body loses too much old bone.

    Corticosteroids can cause osteoporosis by interfering with the body’s ability to make new bone.

  • Cataract

    One of the most common side effects of taking corticosteroids is the development of cataracts.

    Cataracts are a Clouding of the eye’s lens, and they can cause vision problems.

    Corticosteroids can cause the proteins in the eye to break down, which leads to the formation of cataracts.

  • Glaucoma

    Blindness is a potential outcome of the dangerous eye disease glaucoma. It occurs when the pressure in your eye becomes too high.

    This can happen when the corticosteroids cause the drainage channels in your eye to become blocked.

  • Liver Damage

    There are a few different ways that corticosteroids can cause liver damage. First, they can increase the levels of certain enzymes in the liver.

    These enzymes can then lead to cell damage and inflammation. Additionally, corticosteroids can also directly damage liver cells.

Tips To Reduce Side Effects Of Corticosteroids

Here are some tips to help reduce the side effects of corticosteroids-

  • Take the medication as prescribed by your doctor
  • Pay attention to the medication’s dosage directions
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Take the medication with food
  • Tell your doctor if you experience any side effects

Final Remark

The immune system can be effectively suppressed and inflammation can be decreased using corticosteroids.

They are helpful for several ailments, especially when quick treatment is required.

Corticosteroids can produce side effects, some of which are serious, with both short-term and long-term use.

To reduce the chance of adverse effects, be sure to let your healthcare provider know about any preexisting diseases you may have as well as any drugs you are taking.

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