Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are used in several forms, to treat many different conditions. Because they reduce itching, swelling, redness, and allergic reactions, they are often used in treating skin problems, severe allergies, asthma, and arthritis. These drugs also suppress the body's immune response, so they are used in patients who have received organ transplants, to reduce the chance of rejection. In people whose bodies do not produce enough natural corticosteroids, the drugs can raise the levels of those hormones. Corticosteroids also areused to treat certain cancers (along with other drugs), and to reduce inflammation in other medical conditions.

Corticosteroids are medicines that are similar to the natural hormone cortisone. They affect many body processes, including the breakdown of protein, fat,and carbohydrate; the activity of the nervous system; the balance of salt and water; and the regulation of blood pressure. Because of their widespread effects, these drugs are useful in treating many medical conditions, but they can also have undesirable side effects.

These medicines come in a variety of forms, suitable for treating different conditions. For example, inhalant corticosteroids are used to prevent asthma attacks, while corticosteroid ointments, creams and gels are used to treat skin problems. Some examples of corticosteroids are beclomethasone, betamethasone, hydrocortisone, mometasone, prednisone, and triamcinolone.

Corticosteroids are powerful drugs that may cause serious side effects. Anyone taking them should be sure they fully understand the benefits and risks ofthese drugs.

Inhalant forms of these drugs will reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks when taken every day, but will not relieve an asthma attack once ithas started.

In children and teenagers, these medicines can stop or slow growth and affectthe function of the adrenal glands (small glands located above each kidney,which secrete natural corticosteroids). Another possible problem for childrenis that corticosteroids may make infections such as chickenpox and measles more serious. The benefits and risks of giving corticosteroids to children andteenagers should be thoroughly discussed with the child's physician. By adjusting the doses and forms in which corticosteroids are given, the physician may be able to lower the chance of unwanted side effects.

In older people, corticosteroids may increase the risk of high blood pressureand bone disease. Bone problems from corticosteroids are especially likely in older women.

Corticosteroid ointments, creams and gels can be absorbed through the skin and travel into the bloodstream. This is not a problem unless large amounts areabsorbed. Then, unwanted side effects in other parts of the body are possible. There are precautions patients can take to avoid that happening.

Patients taking corticosteroids over long periods may need to follow specialdiets, reducing the amount of sodium or increasing the amount of protein theyeat, for example.

People with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain other medicines can have problems if they take corticosteroids. Corticosteroids can alsocover up the symptoms of some medical problems. If the condition gets worse,the patient has no way of knowing it. Before taking these drugs, patients need to let their doctors know about any medical conditions they may have, but particularly allergies and diabetes. Pregnant or breastfeeding women also needto alert their doctors to their condition. In addition, taking corticosteroids with certain other drugs may affect the way the drugs work or may increasethe chance of side effects. Thus, patients should tell their doctors about any other medications they are taking.

Side effects generally are rare when corticosteroids are used for a short time. However, when they are used over time, they may lower the body's ability to fight off infections or may make infections harder to treat. Other common side effects include changes in appetite (increase or decrease), nervousness,restlessness, sleep problems, and indigestion. These problems usually go awayas the body adjusts to the drug and do not require medical treatment. Less common side effects may occur with some forms of corticosteroids. Inhalants may cause dry throat, headache, nausea, skin bruising or thinning, and san unpleasant taste. Nasal spray forms may irritate the nose or throat, and ointments, gels, or creams may irritate the skin. Again, these side effects do not need medical attention unless they don't go away or they interfere with normalactivities.

More serious side effects are not common, but may occur. Breathing problems,wheezing, or tightness in the chest occur, should be immediately reported toa physician. A number of additional side effects, for example, rash, irregular heartbeat, and rapid weight gain, are possible. Anyone who has unusual or bothersome symptoms after taking corticosteroids should get in touch with hisor her physician.

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