During the period shortly before the 1950’s there was a product discovered by the Mayo Clinic that was thought to be the cure for arthritis. Corticosteroids, as they are called, were tested in clinical trials and found to have amazing results for treating the chronic joint pain and degradation associated with arthritis. Over time however, there were long-term side effects that became evident and scared people from using them until they were fully understood.

Now, corticosteroids, are known to be derived from the hormone cortisol, which is produced in the adrenal gland and is essential for a variety of body functions. Aside from regulating protein and fat metabolic processes, cortisol is also used to control the balance of water and salt in the body.

Corticosteroids are mostly used to treat most types and degrees of arthritis, except for osteoarthritis. They are shown to reduce pain and inflammation and can aid in the regeneration of cell tissue in the affected area. The problem with using them is that the longer they are taken, the more side effects present themselves.

The list of side effects is not pretty, as most of them lead to increased appetite and weight gain. Here’s the short list:

  • Excess fat added to the body in the face, neck, chest, belly, and buttocks.
  • Feeling of always being hungry and insatiable food cravings.
  • Issues with the salt and water balance in the body, causing the body to retain more water and swell up.
  • Weakness, fatigue, psychological problems, and high blood pressure.

As you can see, most of the side effects involve weight gain and a decrease in overall health. This is why many doctors refuse to use corticosteroids at all. In the cases where they do, many patients will quit taking them anyway because of the way they feel after gaining weight and being out of shape. Also, a doctor that prescribes a dose of cortico steroids will usually start with a small dose and only increase it as necessary. As the dose gets higher, the side effects will increase.

The problem with quitting cold turkey is that when you take corticosteroids for a long period of time, the adrenal glands quit producing the hormone naturally. If you quit taking the medication, then the body might suffer from a severe lack of cortisol, which can be a deadly condition. It might sound crazy, but in some cases the dosage must be gradually reduced for years before the patient can quit taking them completely.

Corticosteroids can be taken via injection or in pill form, but the most common dosage by far is in a pill bottle. There are some cases when an injection is warranted however, such as with sports injuries. In this case, the steroid will be injected into the join in order to ease the pain and inflammation. Although these work well, if the dosage is repeated often, then the joint will eventually deteriorate.

Although taking corticosteroids comes with a lot of side effects, there are also many benefits. Taking the right dosage is paramount to the success of the treatment. Also, never increase or reduce your dosage without the consent of your doctor. Although the side effects might be unpleasant, it can be dangerous to try and wean yourself off of them.

Remember that cortisol is an essential hormone and has many functions within the body. Should you take one of these medications for a long period of time, you might need several years before you can successfully stop taking them. Still, for those suffering from severe arthritis, the pain relief will definitely be worth it.

Last updated on Nov 17th, 2009 and filed under Drugs and Medications. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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