What role do corticosteroids play in treating arthritis?
What is cortisone? And corticosteroids? When are they used in the treatment of arthritis and what side effects do they have?
referred to as cortisone, corticosteroids are drugs with the same chemical
structure as the hormones (glucocorticoids) produced by the adrenal glands.
Naturally occurring glucocorticoids are involved in a variety of bodily
functions, including balancing stress response and regulating hormone secretion
and inflammatory processes.
on the other hand, are drugs that are artificially manufactured in a
laboratory. They have been widely used in the treatment of a variety of
illnesses for over 65 years. In fact, corticosteroids were first used to treat
a 29-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis in 1949. The improvement was
immediate…as were the side effects. To this day, the side effects associated
with corticosteroids make prescribing them a controversial issue.
How do corticosteroids work?
corticosteroids act in the same way as the naturally occurring glucocorticoids
secreted by the adrenal glands. Their main therapeutic action is
immunosuppressant, which explains why they are often used to treat allergic and
rheumatic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
plans vary on a case-by-case basis. More often than not, corticosteroids (like
prednisone, prednisolone and deflazacort) are taken orally and are absorbed
through the gastrointestinal tract, although in severe cases they can be
administered intravenously (directly into the bloodstream).
act directly on the cells, impeding the release of the substances that provoke
signs or symptoms of inflammation like pain, heat, redness and swelling. They
also stop new cells from rushing to the inflammation site and prolonging the
What are they used for?
are used to control the inflammation associated with arthritis. Their use is
generally only recommended during flare-ups, with the person being weaned back
off them once symptoms clear up.
What are the side effects?
previously stated, the use of corticosteroids is a controversial issue. This is
because they are known to provoke a variety of side effects when used over
prolonged periods of time. Generally speaking, these side effects disappear
once treatment has been suspended or the dosage has been lowered. That said,
it’s important you read up on what to expect before starting treatment. The
most common side effects include Cushing syndrome (provoking central obesity –
a build-up of fat on the body and face), acne, increased growth of body hair, increases
in blood sugar levels and blood pressure and osteoporosis (bone
decalcification). Corticosteroids occasionally cause changes to the immune
system, opening the individual up to an increased risk of infections.
previously stated, it’s important to remember that these side effects are
reversible. There are also several things you can do to control a lot of these
symptoms. For example, most people (as long as they’re not diabetic) are able
to control an increase in blood sugar levels by sticking to a low-calorie diet.
If you have diabetes you will need to adjust your treatment and make sure you
get your blood sugar levels checked regularly. When it comes to osteoporosis,
one of the symptoms that gives most cause for concern, you can protect yourself
by increasing the amount of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Your doctor may
decide to prescribe some kind of supplement or a medication to control the
– your doctor is always the best person to go to for advice if you have any
doubts concerning the use of corticosteroids. Let them know your worries and
concerns. Your doctor will be able to point you in the right direction.
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