Steroids are a class of synthetic drugs designed to replicate the effects of naturally occurring hormones within the body. Steroids can be prescribed for a variety of conditions and are often used to treat the inflammation of muscles, joints and blood vessels. The main types of steroids for inflammation are known as corticosteroids and include drugs such as hydrocortisone and prednisone. These drugs can be given orally, topically or via injection or inhaler. Unlike anabolic steroids, these drugs will not enhance muscle development.
Topical solutions are one of the most commonly available steroids used for inflammation. Hydrocortisone is often given to treat minor inflammation resulting from insect bites, allergies and other skin irritants. It also may be given to help relieve more serious skin conditions and symptoms resulting from hemorrhoids. Topical steroids are usually available as over-the-counter creams, gels and other types of ointments. Medications with stronger concentrations of greater than 1 percent may require a prescription from a physician.
Oral corticosteroids are only available with a prescription in the United States. These are usually given to a patient as a course of pills or tablets. Both hydrocortisone and prednisone are commonly prescribed oral steroids for inflammation resulting from various forms of arthritis, asthma and other medical conditions. When taking corticosteroids, it is important to remember to take each dose as prescribed by the doctor. This will help ensure a continuous level of synthetic hormones in the bloodstream.
In some cases, corticosteroids may be injected directly into the inflamed area. This is often done in severe cases of arthritis or for joint injuries that may limit mobility. In some cases, these injections can bring patients relief from pain and inflammation for weeks or months at a time.
Asthma patients may be administered corticosteroids via inhaler or nasal spray. When inhaled, the steroids help prevent the inflammation of the lungs and airways associated with asthma and other breathing disorders. Steroid inhalers are typically used for long-term control of asthma rather than for fast-acting relief.
When taking steroids for inflammation, it is important for patients to be aware of the potential for long- and short-term side effects. While many patients experience only mild side effects, others can develop a dangerous allergic reaction to corticosteroids. Patients who take multiple doses of steroids can also experience bone density loss over time. Patients should discuss the risks and potential for side effects with their physician before beginning a course of corticosteroids.