What Are Steroid Medications?

The term “steroid medications” refers to corticosteroids as well as to androgen and anabolic steroids. Corticosteroid medications are synthetic versions of hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands.

Corticosteroids are widely used to treat pain conditions because they can be administered in a variety of ways, they are long-acting, and they tend to cost less than other medications.

Some examples of corticosteroids are hydrocortisone, prednisone, dexamethasone, and fludrocortisone. Most corticosteroids must be prescribed by a doctor but some corticosteroids are available over-the-counter.

How Are Steroid Medications Administered?

eye conditionsThere are multiple ways of administering corticosteroid medications. Corticosteroids may be administered by injection, inhalation, orally, intravenously, or through an epidural. Corticosteroids medications may also be applied topically to the skin.

Injections are often used to administer a corticosteroid directly to an inflamed joint or tissue. The effects of the injected corticosteroids are usually localized to the inflamed area. The doctor may administer a local anesthetic along with the corticosteroid to reduce the pain of the injection.

Some of the side effects of injected corticosteroids include pain at the site of the injection, infection, skin breakdown, and a general feeling of being unwell.

The length of time over which corticosteroids can be injected depends on the condition treated.  A one-time injection of a corticosteroid may be administered in an emergency setting. A short-term course of injections usually lasts four to six weeks while a longer-term course of corticosteroid injections may include multiple injections over a 12-month period.

Inhalation devices administer corticosteroids directly through the airways. It is important to receive instruction in the proper use and cleaning of an inhaler from a healthcare professional prior to using an inhalation device. It is also recommended that anyone using an inhalation device regularly review their inhalation technique with a healthcare professional as proper technique is required to ensure that the correct dose of medication is being administered.

Oral corticosteroids are taken by mouth. Side effects of short-term courses of corticosteroid therapy tend to be mild and include water retention, increase in appetite, weight gain, headaches, and stomachaches. Long-term use of corticosteroids is associated with more significant side effects such as weakening of the bones, weight gain, increased blood sugar, increased risk of diabetes, thinning of the skin, and muscle weakness.

Since weakening of the bones is one of the most common long-term side effects of oral corticosteroids, patients on such treatment protocols are often advised to take measures to prevent weakening of the bones.  Ways of protecting the bones while on long-term corticosteroids include taking calcium and vitamin D. A doctor may also prescribe a medication to prevent the bones from weakening. Also, as a general rule, patients taking corticosteroids are advised to stop smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, and to engage in regular exercise.

Topical corticosteroids are available as creams, lotions, or ointments. These me