Oral steroids, also known as oral corticosteroids or oral glucocorticoids, are synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of cortisol, a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands. These medications are used to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system in various medical conditions. Unlike anabolic steroids used by some athletes and bodybuilders for muscle growth, oral steroids have different purposes and mechanisms of action. Here are some key points about oral steroids:
1. Medical Uses: Oral steroids are prescribed to treat a wide range of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, such as:
Allergies: They can be used to manage severe allergic reactions or asthma exacerbations.
Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders: They help reduce inflammation and control symptoms.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Oral steroids may be used during flare-ups of conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Skin Conditions: They are used to treat conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis.
Respiratory Conditions: They may be prescribed for respiratory issues like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Various Other Inflammatory Conditions: Oral steroids can be used for conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), and more.
2. Mechanism of Action: Oral steroids work by suppressing the immune response and reducing inflammation in the body. They do this by inhibiting the production of various inflammatory substances, such as prostaglandins and cytokines.
3. Examples of Oral Steroids: Some commonly prescribed oral steroids include prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone.
4. Dosage and Duration: The dosage and duration of oral steroid use depend on the specific condition being treated, its severity, and the individual’s response to the medication. In many cases, doctors prescribe a short course of oral steroids to manage acute flare-ups of inflammation. However, for chronic conditions, long-term use may be necessary, albeit at lower doses to minimize side effects.
5. Side Effects: Oral steroids can have various side effects, especially with prolonged use or at high doses. Common side effects may include weight gain, increased appetite, mood changes, insomnia, fluid retention, increased susceptibility to infections, elevated blood sugar levels, and bone density loss. Long-term use can also lead to more severe side effects, such as osteoporosis, cataracts, glaucoma, and increased risk of infections.
6. Tapering: To avoid withdrawal symptoms and adrenal insufficiency, oral steroids are typically tapered off gradually when stopping treatment, especially after prolonged use.