What are Glucocorticoids?
health problems involve inflammation. When the immune system goes into action,
inflammation can get out of control and cause damage or pain. Glucocorticoids
are chemicals that can stop inflammation, but they have many side effects and
is the source of many illnesses. Autoimmune diseases and allergies are caused by
inappropriate reactions of the immune system. Redness and swelling are
hallmarks of inflammation. Inflammation can be beneficial when it alerts the
immune system to a site of infection. However, inflammation can become harmful
if chronic or inappropriate (i.e. attacking your own cells).
Glucocorticoids (GCs) are steroids that reduce
inflammation throughout the body. Cortisol is a naturally occurring GC that is
made by your adrenal glands, and works to regulate inflammation and other
processes in your body. However, sometimes your levels of cortisol are not enough
to counter sudden, chronic, or severe inflammation.
Synthetic GCs are drugs including prednisone,
dexamethasone, and hydrocortisone. Synthetic GCs act in a similar way to stop
inflammation, and can be even more potent than naturally occurring chemicals.
interrupt inflammation by moving into cells and suppressing the proteins that
go on to promote inflammation. GCs also affect
your metabolism by causing cells in the liver to make more sugar. This may lead
to too much sugar in the blood, and cause steroid induced diabetes mellitus.
How are Glucocorticoids Used?
are used to treat a wide variety of conditions.
diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease,
ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and eczema can be treated with GCs. These
diseases cause extensive inflammation when the body attacks its own cells. Suppressing
inflammation can reduce symptoms such as pain, swelling, cramping, and itching.
GCs can reduce the activity of immune cells, an important tool for reducing the
internal damage of autoimmune diseases.
and asthma are also caused by inflammation. In these conditions, your immune
system can respond to the allergen, including harmless air borne pollen, or
peanuts with an aggressive inflammatory reaction. GCs can treat this
overreaction by arresting the inflammation and calming immune cell activity.
Inhaled GCs like triamcinolone and beclometasone can treat nasal allergies
or asthma (as a non-emergency treatment).
also be used to replace cortisol if you have adrenal insufficiency. This can be
caused by a condition such as Addison’s disease, or surgical removal of adrenal
also treat decompensated heart failure by increasing how the body responds to
GCs can be
used in cancer therapy to reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy. They
may also be used to kill some cancer cells in acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic
lymphoblastic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and
multiple myeloma, among others.
GCs may be
used during sensitive neurosurgeries to reduce inflammation in delicate
tissues. They are also administered right after an organ transplant to help
prevent early rejection of the donor organ.
conditions ranging from eczema to poison ivy are treated with hydrocortisone, an over-the-counter GC
used as a topical cream. This is not suitable for long-term treatment without a
Side Effects of Glucocorticoid
sound like miracle drugs, but there are some very damaging side effects, which
make them dangerous for long-term use.
Immunosuppression is a major problem. Your immune
system is less functional when taking GCs, and you are more prone to serious
Wound healing requires a certain amount of
inflammation. Wound healing can be delayed during GC therapy.
your blood sugar. This can trigger temporary and possibly long term diabetes
mellitus. Calcium absorption may be suppressed and osteoporosis may result. Muscle atrophy can also occur with long-term GC
therapy. Cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood are
increased by GCs.
effects of GCs can be striking and may prevent some people from using them as
therapy. They can cause mood changes, memory problems, and even psychosis.
Ulcers and gastritis may be more likely when GC therapy is being used.
these effects are seen in people suffering from Cushing Disease. This is an illness where the adrenal glands make
too much cortisol. Long-term GC treatment can result in Cushing Syndrome. In both conditions, you develop:
- a fatty hump between your shoulders
- a round face
- weight gain
- pink stretch marks
- weakened bones
- high blood pressure
- thin skin
- slow healing
- irregular menstrual cycles
- decreased libido
for anti-inflammatory therapy must be balanced against the dangerous side
effects. If you need glucocorticoid treatment, you may be weaned off of it
slowly to prevent rebound effects.