Steroid medicines are used for many different medical conditions. They can be given as creams/ointments (eg, for eczema or dermatitis), as a nasal spray (eg, for hay fever or allergic rhinitis), as inhalers (eg, for asthma), as tablets (eg, for inflammatory bowel disease) or as an injection (eg, for arthritis).
What are steroids?
Steroids are hormones that occur naturally in the body. Steroid medicines are man-made and are similar to the natural hormones made in the body. The type of steroids used to treat disease are called corticosteroids. They are different to the anabolic steroids which some athletes and bodybuilders use. Anabolic steroids have very different effects.
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How do steroids work?
Steroids are a man-made version of hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands, which are just above each kidney. When taken in doses higher than the amount your body normally produces, steroids:
- Reduce inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body''s natural defence against illness and infection. This can help treat autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune hepatitis or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body.
Types of steroids
Steroids come in many different forms. The main types are:
Oral steroids reduce inflammation and are used for treating many different conditions, including:
- Crohn''s disease affecting the rectum.
Steroid nasal sprays
Steroid nasal sprays are medicines that are commonly used to treat symptoms of stuffiness or congestion in the nose. They are used most often for allergies of the nose, such as hay fever. See also the separate leaflet called Steroid Nasal Sprays.
Steroid inhalers are steroids that are breathed in and down into your lungs. They are mainly used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). For more information see the separate leaflets called Inhalers for Asthma (including Inhaled Steroids) and Inhalers for COPD (including Inhaled Steroids).
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Steroid injections can be used for joint problems and rheumatoid arthritis. They can also be used the 1 last update 14 Jul 2020 for some conditions affecting soft tissues, like tendon inflammation or tennis elbow. For more information see the separate leaflet called Steroid Injections.Steroid injections can be used for joint problems and rheumatoid arthritis. They can also be used for some conditions affecting soft tissues, like tendon inflammation or tennis elbow. For more information see the separate leaflet called Steroid Injections.
Side effects of steroids
Steroids don''re taken for a short time or at a low dose. Side-effects are much more common with oral steroids and can include:
- Indigestion (dyspepsia).
- Heartburn (acid reflux).
- Increased appetite, which may cause weight gain.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Increased risk of infections, especially viral infections such as shingles or measles.
- Prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
- Weakening of the bones (osteoporosis).
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- Cushing''s Information Standard.
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