Doctors prescribe cortisone medications—often simply called steroids—to treat a wide variety of inflammatory conditions, from asthma to arthritis.
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Cortisone Is a Corticosteroid
Cortisone is a synthetic version of cortisol, a steroid produced by the body's adrenal glands. In large quantities, cortisol suppresses the immune system's inflammatory and allergic responses. Cortisone medications mimic the action of cortisol but tend to be more powerful.
Cortisone and cortisol are both types of glucocorticosteroids, often referred to as corticosteroids. The term "corticosteroids" is sometimes used interchangeably with the terms "cortisone" and "cortisol."
Corticosteroids vs. Anabolic Steroids
Corticosteroids are different from anabolic steroids (e.g. testosterone) that are used to enhance male characteristics and improve athletic performance. Corticosteroids and anabolic steroids share similar chemical structures but play different roles in the body.
Commonly Used Types of Cortisone
Corticosteroid medications come in a range of strengths and in different forms, such as pills, topical creams, and liquids that can be injected directly into the body. Below are examples of cortisone medications and how they are used to treat arthritic conditions.
Isolated joint inflammation and pain caused by bursitis, osteoarthritis, gout, and other arthritic conditions may be treated with a cortisone injection. An injection delivers potent medicine directly to the area of inflammation. Two examples of injectable cortisone are triamcinolone and betamethasone, each of which is sold under different brand names.
Oral Cortisone Medications
People who have inflammatory disorders that affect entire body, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, may treat painful flare-ups with oral corticosteroids, including sulfasalazine and methotrexate. Chronic oral steroid use can lead to complications, so doctors limit patient use when possible.
Topical steroid medications come in many forms, such as creams, gels, foams, sprays and patches, and are used to treat skin inflammation. Many people are familiar with over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream (e.g. Hydrocone-10) to treat bug bites and poison ivy. More powerful topical corticosteroids may be prescribed to treat conditions such as psoriasis, an inflammatory skin disorder associated with psoriatic arthritis.
There are also cortisone mists, which are used to treat conditions such as asthma and sinusitis. Whether in a mist, pill, topical form, or injection, corticosteroids can cause side effects. A doctor or pharmacist can talk to a patient about potential risks and side effects.