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What Are Corticosteroids? An In-Depth Look into Their Role and Uses

MuscleMecca Crew

MuscleMecca Crew

MuscleMecca Crew
May 11, 2012
If you're considering using steroids as a performance-enhancing drug, corticosteroids differ from anabolic steroids. These are more focused on treating medical conditions, especially inflammation. These are also synthetic hormones that mimic the functions of cortisol.

Usually, a corticosteroid is prescribed to treat swelling and irritation since it can provide relief in a short period. Therefore, excessive corticosteroid use may also adversely affect health. It may also interact with different illnesses, so seeking medical advice when using corticosteroids is essential.

Corticosteroids - Understanding their Role and Uses

Understanding Corticosteroids​

Corticosteroid is the synthetic version of cortisol, or the hormones our bodies release when stressed. They keep our bodies handling of inflammation and pain and swelling tolerable. These drugs are suitable for treating sudden symptoms that need a fast-acting response.

There are two classes of corticosteroids–glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. Both are pharmaceutical classes, that may help with allergies, gastrointestinal problems, and autoimmune diseases.

Glucocorticoids work to reduce inflammation by producing more red blood cells. The most common glucocorticoids are Prednisone and cortisone. These drugs are usually used for joints, asthma, and allergies. These are also used by patients who have just received an organ transplant to prevent rejection.

The other class of corticosteroids is called mineralocorticoids. These are usually used by patients who have kidney problems to control the body's salt balance. Since their kidneys don't work correctly, mineralocorticoids work on the water and electrolytes in the body by regulating sodium and potassium channels.

Physiological Functions of Corticosteroids​

Corticosteroids can reduce redness and swelling in the different parts of the body by preventing the activities of multiple inflammatory genes. It stops the production of anything that triggers inflammation in the body and keeps the tissue damage as reduced as possible. However, it needs support from other drugs to cure inflammation as it only reduces the symptoms and provides quick relief.
It also helps control the conditions affecting the body's immune system. It alters the activities of the white blood cells to suppress the immune system by inhibiting the production of cytokines.

Corticosteroids also help in a stress response, specifically glucocorticoids. The right cortisol balance can influence how your body responds to dangers and threats. When your glucocorticoid levels are high, you will most likely experience changes in your normal blood pressure, insomnia, and insulin resistance.

The Medical Uses of Corticosteroids​

This drug is given when the body starts to create tissue damage because of its response to inflammation.

It may control long-term asthma through inhalation. These are taken regularly to prevent asthma attacks, only under a physician's prescription. When inhaled, it reduces the swelling in the airways, which makes an individual breathe improperly.

Corticosteroid inhalers are most effective when taken within several months to experience their benefits. However, an asthma attack that needs immediate relief can be treated with an oral corticosteroid.

It is also used in treating rheumatoid arthritis through an injection for immediate relief. When it needs to be continuously taken during therapy, patients take them in single doses regularly. This relieves the inflammatory effects that contribute to the severe symptoms.

Aside from asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, corticosteroids are commonly used to treat lupus. Lupus can lead to many health problems since it attacks your tissues by mistake. But corticosteroids, usually Prednisone, reduce the symptoms of inflammation and prevents from making more tissue damage.

How Corticosteroids Work: Mechanism of Action​

Corticosteroids lower the amount of white blood cells to influence the body's immune system. Low white blood cells help in conditions like autoimmune diseases. It also prevents the release of histamine to stop allergic reactions like sneezing and itching.

This drug also stimulates the liver to increase blood sugar levels to produce glucose. This effect is essential during stressful events since glucose provides the body with additional energy.


Administration of Corticosteroids​

The administration of corticosteroids will depend on your needs. A physician will prescribe the best method in which your body can absorb the effects immediately. It can be taken as tablets, inhalers, injections, and topical creams.

Common oral steroids are Prednisone, prednisolone, and hydrocortisone. These are usually taken to provide relief for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. However, these should be taken cautiously since the body will absorb them and may have an effect, especially in the liver. Corticosteroids may worsen a widespread infection if they are not ingested with caution.

Steroid inhalers usually come in flunisolide and fluticasone. People use these to treat and prevent asthma attacks. It may also help control inflammation in the airways if you experience nasal allergies. Some physicians recommend rinsing the mouth after inhaling corticosteroids since it may leave deposits in your mouth, which may cause oral thrush.

Injections are either taken by intravenous or intramuscular. This route usually gives fewer side effects since these are directly given to the inflamed area. However, it may still cause
intense pain and loss of skin color.

Topical corticosteroids are given to those who experience skin allergies like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. It usually comes in creams, gels, and lotion forms. Mild corticosteroids can be brought over the counter without prescriptions. However, more substantial types like fluticasone may require a prescription.

This type of steroid should not be used for skin infections or if you are experiencing rosacea and acne breakout. Topical steroids can treat skin allergies usually within seven days. Some doctors require it longer, depending on the skin condition.

Potential Side Effects and Risks of Corticosteroids​

Like other drugs, excessive use of corticosteroids may lead to different side effects. However, the most potent side effects can be seen in oral corticosteroids since the whole body absorbs them.

It has almost the same side effects as anabolic steroids. It may cause elevated blood pressure, behavioral changes, glaucoma, diabetes, and liver problems when taken long-term. However, its side effects may only be felt if used in high doses for a long time.

Though side effects are unavoidable, you may reduce them if you take the correct dosage and have regular checkups with your doctor.

Precautions and Contraindications When Using Corticosteroids​

Before you take corticosteroids, you must seek guidance from a medical professional first. Though you may not see its side effects early, prolonged use may cause severe health problems. Doctors only prescribe corticosteroids if other treatments are not working.

Adults are most likely to develop high blood pressure because of its impact on red and white blood cells. It may cause diabetes because it increases the glucose production in the body. Like anabolic steroids, excessive use of corticosteroids may lead to heart failure and other cardiovascular problems.

Additionally, it may react with other medicines, which may cause ineffectivity. People with excessive blood clotting, HIV, and experiencing seizures should not take corticosteroids. Otherwise, it may lead to other illnesses and may develop higher risks.

Corticosteroids for bodybuilding


Corticosteroids are also synthetic hormones that can be taken to treat specific illnesses. However, it is not similar to anabolic steroids used for performance enhancement. Corticosteroids are usually used to provide quick relief for certain conditions, but it has side effects in both short-term and long-term use. A person should consider any underlying health conditions before taking corticosteroids.