August 30, 2014
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Arthritis (Rheumatoid)

 Health Home >> Arthritis (Rheumatoid) >> Treating RA and taking control 


Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids, sometimes referred to as "steroids," are medications that mimic the hormone cortisone in the body and are used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to control inflammation. However, they cannot slow the progression of joint damage.

The way corticosteroids work to decrease inflammation is not completely understood. They are believed to hinder white blood cells (which destroy foreign substances in the body) and suppress the production of substances that trigger inflammation.

Corticosteroids used in Canada for RA include:

Dexamethasone (Dexasone®, generics)
  • What does it do? Dexamethasone reduces inflammation in the body.
  • How do I use it? Dexamethasone is taken orally (by mouth) or by injection. The dose should be individualized and will depend on the severity of your RA symptoms.
  • What are some known side effects? Dexamethasone can cause weight gain, mood swings, acne, delayed wound healing, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels that may trigger or worsen diabetes.
Hydrocortisone (Cortef®, generics)
  • What does it do? Hydrocortisone reduces inflammation in the body.
  • How do I use it? Hydrocortisone is taken orally (by mouth). The dose should be individualized and will depend on the severity of your RA symptoms.
  • What are some known side effects? Hydrocortisone can cause weight gain, mood swings, acne, delayed wound healing, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels that may trigger or worsen diabetes.
Methylprednisolone acetate (Depo-Medrol®, generics)
  • What does it do? Methylprednisolone reduces inflammation in the affected joint.
  • How do I use it? Methylprednisolone is given as a single injection into the affected joint by a health care provider. The injection may need to be repeated at regular intervals, depending on specific individual circumstances.
  • What are some known side effects? Methylprednisolone can cause injection site reactions (e.g., pain, redness). As with other corticosteroids, methylprednisolone may also cause weight gain, mood swings, acne, delayed wound healing, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels that may trigger or worsen diabetes.
Prednisone (Winpred®, generics)
  • What does it do? Prednisone reduces inflammation in the body.
  • How do I use it? Prednisone is taken orally (by mouth) usually once a day.
  • What are some known side effects? Prednisone can cause weight gain, mood swings, acne, delayed wound healing, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels that may trigger or worsen diabetes.
Triamcinolone (Aristospan®, Kenalog®, generics)
  • What does it do? Triamcinolone reduces inflammation in the affected joint.
  • How do I use it? Triamcinolone is given by injection into the affected joint by a health care provider. It is given as a single injection, and further injections may be needed depending on specific individual circumstances.
  • What are some known side effects? Triamcinolone can cause injection site reactions (e.g., irritation, pain, discoloration). As with other corticosteroids, triamcinolone may also cause weight gain, mood swings, acne, delayed wound healing, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels that may trigger or worsen diabetes.

In the treatment of RA, corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation, leading to a possible reduction in pain. Initial use of these medications can provide dramatic improvement in symptoms. Short-term use of corticosteroids can be very useful for managing the symptoms of RA disease flare-ups.

Corticosteroids can cause serious side effects, including new infections, triggering diabetes, masking the signs of infection, suppressing growth in children, thinning of bones (osteoporosis), and, over prolonged use, eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma.

If you will be using corticosteroids over the long term, your doctor may recommend regular checkup appointments and lab tests.

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