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Corticosteroids are synthetic forms of a naturally occurring hormone known as cortisol and are used to treat pain and inflammation. Potential side effects of these drugs, such as high blood pressure, weight gain, and diabetes, lead many people to consider alternatives to corticosteroids. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen are frequently used as substitutes for corticosteroids. Herbal supplements such as calendula, dong quai, and witch hazel may be used in the place of corticosteroids in many cases. Physical therapy, cold compresses, or heat therapy may also be used instead of corticosteroids.
Non-prescription pain medications may be used as short-term alternatives to corticosteroids in some situations. Medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen contain anti-inflammatory properties and may be particularly useful for those with conditions such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Excessive or prolonged use of these drugs may lead to kidney damage or circulatory system disorders. Acetaminophen is easier on the kidneys but may cause liver damage when used for extended periods of time.
Calendula and witch hazel may be used as alternatives to corticosteroids when topical medications are needed. Witch hazel can be used full strength to treat inflammatory conditions such as eczema and hemorrhoids, while calendula is often added to skin creams and may be used to treat inflammation caused by insect bites, bee stings, or other skin disorders. While witch hazel is considered safe for most people, minor skin irritation may occur at the application site. Calendula side effects are rare but may include allergic reactions among those sensitive to this herb.
Dong quai is among the most popular oral alternatives to corticosteroids. This supplement is thought to reduce inflammation in the blood and digestive tract and may be used to treat circulatory disorders or inflammatory bowel disease. Increased sensitivity to the sun or hormonal fluctuations may occur when taking dong quai, especially in high doses. Blood clotting disorders have also been reported among some people who use this herbal remedy.
Ice packs or warm compresses may be used to treat pain and inflammation in some cases, depending on instructions given by the supervising physician. Physical therapy may also be recommended so that an individualized exercise program can be developed based on specific needs. While alternatives to corticosteroids can be beneficial for many people, these methods of treatment should not be used as substitutes for proper medical care. A doctor or other health care professional should be consulted before beginning any new treatment program.