Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are an anti-inflammatory medicine used to treat a range of conditions.

They're different from the anabolic steroids used by athletes and body builders to improve their performance.

Types of steroids

Steroids come in many different forms.

The main types are:

  • tablets, syrups and liquids - such as prednisolone. Read more about steroid tablets
  • injections (which can be into blood vessels, joints or muscles) - such as methylprednisolone. Read more about steroid injections.
  • inhalers and nasal sprays - such as beclometasone and fluticasone. Read more about steroid inhalers and steroid nasal sprays
  • lotions, gels or creams - such as hydrocortisone

Most steroids are only available on prescription, but a few (such as some creams or nasal sprays) can be bought from pharmacies and shops.

Possible side effects

Steroids don't tend to cause significant side effects if they're taken for a short time or at a low dose.

But sometimes they can cause unpleasant side effects, such as an increased appetite, mood changes and difficulty sleeping. This is most common with steroid tablets.

The side effects will usually pass once you finish the treatment, but don't stop taking your medicine without speaking to your doctor. This can cause further unpleasant side effects (withdrawal symptoms).

What are steroids used for?

Steroids can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including:

How steroids work

Steroids are a man-made version of hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands, two small glands found above the kidneys.

When taken in doses higher than the amount your body normally produces, steroids reduce redness and swelling (inflammation). This can help with inflammatory conditions such as asthma and eczema.

Steroids also reduce the activity of the immune system, the body's natural defence against illness and infection.

This can help treat autoimmune condtions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, which are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body.

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 30/11/2022 10:52:15