General Practice 2022

Corticosteroids: what they are, what they are for and side effects

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Corticosteroids: what they are, what they are for and side effects
Corticosteroids: what they are, what they are for and side effects

Corticosteroids, also known as corticosteroids or cortisone, are synthetic drugs produced in the laboratory based on hormones produced by the adrenal glands, which have a potent anti-inflammatory action.

This type of medicine is widely used in the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions such as asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or dermatological problems, to relieve symptoms. However, when used for long periods or improperly, corticosteroids can result in several side effects, such as increased appetite, tiredness and nervousness, for example.

Types of corticosteroids

There are several types of corticosteroids, which are used according to the problem to be treated, including:

  • Topical corticosteroids: are creams, ointments, gels or lotions used to treat allergic reactions or skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, hives or eczema. Examples: hydrocortisone, betamethasone, mometasone, or dexamethasone.
  • Oral corticosteroids: tablets or oral solutions used in the treatment of various endocrine, musculoskeletal, rheumatic, collagen, dermatological, allergic, ophthalmic, respiratory, hematological, neoplastic and other diseases. Examples: prednisone or deflazacort.
  • Injectable corticosteroids: indicated to treat cases of musculoskeletal disorders, allergic and dermatological conditions, collagen diseases, palliative treatment of malignant tumors, among others. Examples: dexamethasone, betamethasone.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids: are devices used in the treatment of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory allergies. Examples: fluticasone, budesonide.
  • Corticosteroids in nasal spray: are used to treat rhinitis and severe nasal congestion. Examples: fluticasone, mometasone.

In addition, there are also corticosteroids in eye drops, for application in the eye, with prednisolone or dexamethasone, for example, which can be used in the treatment of ophthalmic problems, such as conjunctivitis or uveitis, reducing inflammation, irritation and redness.

Possible side effects

Corticosteroid side effects are more common in cases where a person uses corticosteroids for prolonged periods and include:

  • Tiredness and insomnia;
  • Increased blood sugar levels;
  • Alterations in the immune system, which may decrease the body's ability to fight infections;
  • Agitation and nervousness;
  • Increased appetite;
  • Poor digestion;
  • Stomach ulcer;
  • Inflammation of the pancreas and esophagus;
  • Local allergic reactions;
  • Cataract, increased intraocular pressure and bulging eyes.

Learn about other side effects caused by corticosteroids.

Who should not use

The use of corticosteroids is contraindicated in patients with hypersensitivity to the substance and other components that are present in the formulas and in people with systemic fungal infections or uncontrolled infections.

Furthermore, corticosteroids should be used with caution in people with hypertension, heart failure, renal failure, osteoporosis, epilepsy, gastroduodenal ulcer, diabetes, glaucoma, obesity or psychosis, and should only be used under medical supervision, in these cases.

Is it safe to use during pregnancy?

The use of corticosteroids during pregnancy is not recommended, as it may endanger the baby or the mother. Thus, the use of corticosteroids in the treatment of diseases in pregnant women should only be done under the guidance of the obstetrician and when the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

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