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By Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

Corticosteroids are a group of powerful drugs that are based on human hormones.

What are they?

Corticosteroids are steroids, along with various other drugs and naturally occurring hormones.

They are manufactured based on the hormone cortisol. In the 1940s, corticosteroids were isolated from the hormones and introduced as medicines that produced results that appeared miraculous.

There are two types of corticosteroids, the glucocorticoids and the mineralacortoids. Medically, the glucocortoids are used more often and this term is often used interchangeably with corticosteroids.

Glucocortoids work on the immune system, stopping the production of substances that cause allergic reactions and inflammation.

What is coritsol?

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in humans. It is important in regulating the water/salt balance in the body and the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

This hormone is a steroid and is made from cholesterol. It can affect the stress responses, behaviour and the immune response.

When are they used?

Glucocortoids are usually used to treat inflammation and allergic responses.

Common issues treated with glucocortoids include:

  • Arthritis, especially  rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Dermatitis and skin conditions
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lupus
  • Breathing problems
  • BOOP
  • Digestive problems
  • Eye problems
  • Hormone replacements

Corticosteroids are also used to help the body accept a transplanted organ.

Which glucocortoid, the dosage and the length of treatment depend on the problem being treated.

What about side effects?

There are a number of side effects common to corticosteroid use, although most effects are reversible (that is, they go away when you stop using the drug.)

In some people, corticosteroids can cause major problems so these are not drugs used without a good medical reason for doing so. The side effects are more common in long term users of the drugs so doctors usually prescribe the smallest does for the shortest time that will solve the problem so that side effects are minimised as much as possible.

Some of the common side effects are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Increase blood sugar levels and possibly diabetes
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Slow healing of wounds
  • acne like marks on the skin
  • osteoporosis
  • fatty areas on the chest, face, upper back and stomach
  • bruising easily
  • cataracts
  • psychological affects (e.g. mood swings, insomnia, depression, excitement, delirium)
  • a hip problem called aseptic necrosis (very rare)
  • a round face that looks puffy
  • irregularities in periods
  • drug induced Cushing’s Syndrome

As glucocortoids act on the immune system, these drugs can make the patient more susceptible to infections during treatment. In particular, people taking corticosteroids should avoid exposure to chicken pox and measles, the oral polio vaccine and people who have recently taken the oral polio vaccine.

Taking these drugs during pregnancy may cause birth defects and they can pass through breast milk so careful consideration is required before offering these women coticosteroids.

Side effects are more common when the drugs are taken orally (by tablets or liquid medicines.)

 Stopping treatment

As corticosteroids are so powerful, they need to be stopped slowly, rather than going from a large dose to nothing.

During treatment, the adrenal glands will stop producing cortisol. By slowing reducing the dosage of corticosetroids, the adrenal gland can restart making the cortisol hormone.

It can take months or even a year to reduce a high dosage of corticosteroids enough for someone to comfortably stop taking the drug.


Clear communication is critical to the success of any business, but it is often left to care for itself in many businesses. Tash Hughes is a microbiologist, and a professional and skilled writer who makes technical and otherwise boring information accessible for everyone a business needs to communicate with. Next time you need webcopy, articles, newsletters, reports or any other business document, visit www.wordconstructions.com.au to see how Tash and her team can help your business succeed.



© 2007, Tash Hughes

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