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Corticosteroid, Oral (Prednisone)

A corticosteroid is an important and potent type medication that is commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation.

You may be prescribed a corticosteroid to treat the following conditions:

Corticosteroids may be administered by mouth (oral), applied to the skin (topical), inhaled, or injected.

Prednisone is the most commonly prescribed form of oral corticosteroid. Dexamathesone is a commonly prescribed form of injectable corticosteroid.

Corticosteroids vs. "Steroids"

Corticosteroids are similar to hormones that your adrenal glands produce to fight stress associated with illnesses and injuries. They reduce inflammation and affect the immune system.

Corticosteroids are different from anabolic steroids that may be abused by athlete's to build muscle mass. Corticosteroids do not build muscle mass.

Using Corticosteroids

The decision to begin a corticosteroid depends on several factors, including the condiiton being treated, its severity, its response to other treatments and the person's past use of corticosteroids.

Some people may need to take the medication for a short time only, until disease symptoms get better or go away. Others with more serious or life-threatening problems may require higher doses of the drug for longer periods of time.

In general, once your symptoms have responded to treatment, you will gradually take less and less of the drug until you can stop completely. If it is not possible for you to stop the drug completely, your doctor will give you the smallest amount possible to keep symptoms under control.

Doctors are careful about prescribing corticosteroids because many complications are associated with taking them. As a result, it is important to take the drug exactly as prescribed. People who have been taking corticosteroids for a long time may need higher doses of the drug before, during, or after a physically stressful event, such as surgery.

Corticosteroid Side Effects

These include changes in appearance (such as acne or increased facial hair); development of a round or moon-shaped face; thin, fragile skin that bruises easily; or movement of body fat to the trunk. You might also experience mood changes, personality changes, irritability, agitation, or depression.

Other possible side effects include increased appetite and weight gain, poor wound healing, headache, glaucoma, irregular menstrual periods, peptic ulcer, muscle weakness, osteoporosis, steroid-induced diabetes, and osteonecrosis (damage to a joint, usually the hip joint, that leads to severe arthritis).

Your adrenal glands, which are located just above your kidneys, normally make corticosteroids in small amounts. These corticosteroids are important for many body functions. When you take corticosteroid medication, your body begins to make much less than usual, or even stops completely. If you suddenly stop taking your medication, you may have a problem because your adrenal glands won’t have had time to make the corticosteroids you need. This problem is called “adrenal insufficiency.”

Signs of adrenal insufficiency include weakness, fatigue, fever, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. If you experience any of these problems, call your nurse or doctor immediately.

Because corticosteroids cross the placenta, they are used cautiously during pregnancy. The drugs appear in breast milk, so if you are taking large doses, you should not breastfeed.