What are corticosteroids?

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CORTICOSTEROIDS are synthetic drugs that are used to treat a wide variety of disorders, including asthma, arthritis, skin conditions and autoimmune diseases. The drug mimics cortisol, a hormone that’s naturally produced by the adrenal glands in healthy people.
Cortisol, commonly called the “stress hormone,” is a steroid hormone (not to be confused with anabolic steroids, which are sometimes abused by athletes) that’s released in response to stress. It’s involved in a wide range of processes in the body, such as metabolism, inflammation, blood pressure regulation and bone formation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Corticosteroids work by decreasing inflammation and suppressing the immune system, according to Cleveland Clinic. Left untreated, excess inflammation can damage healthy tissue, as well as cause redness, swelling and pain.
The first use of corticosteroids dates back to 1948, when rheumatologists at the Mayo Clinic treated a patient who had debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, according to a 2010 article published in the journal Clinical Chemistry. The patient, who was treated with the then-experimental injectable drug, was able to walk out of the hospital after the third treatment and go on a 3-hour shopping spree, according to the author.
There are several types of corticosteroids, including cortisone, prednisone, dexamethasone, prednisolone, betamethasone and hydrocortisone. Cortisone was the first corticosteroid drug approved for use in the U.S., which happened in 1950, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Corticosteroids are often used as a anti-inflammatory medications and immune suppressants to treat arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases (including lupus and multiple sclerosis), skin conditions (such as eczema and psoriasis), some types of cancer (such as leukemia), and the aftermath of organ transplant, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Depending on the specific treatment goal of the drug, it may be used orally, injected, inhaled or applied topically, according to the Mayo Clinic. Oral corticosteroids are typically used to treat and help control symptoms of chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, by reducing inflammation throughout the body. Injected corticosteroids treat a specific location, such as inflammation or pain caused by tendinitis in a joint.
Corticosteroids are inhaled to treat asthma by reducing inflammation and swelling of the airways, and they can also help lower the risk or frequency of future attacks. Topical steroids are usually put into creams and ointments to treat and soothe skin conditions.

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