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Using Corticosteroids for Pain Control

By

Updated January 10, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Corticosteroids Are:

Corticosteroids are a class of strong anti-inflammatory drugs that can be used to control severe swelling, and can control certain types of pain. They are designed to act like steroids that occur naturally in your body. Corticosteroids work by altering the immune response, controlling inflammation which can cause pain and decrease movement. Corticosteroids may be taken in pill form, applied topically to the skin or injected directly into the tissues.

How Corticosteroids are Used:

Corticosteroids tend to be used in the short-term, though they are often used by people who have chronic pain conditions. Some people take them for chronic swelling of the joints and tendons; however, corticosteroids are more frequently used to treat flare-ups, or episodes of acute pain associated with long-term conditions. They may be used for this purpose in people who have the following conditions, in order to decrease pain and increase joint and tissue mobility:

Common Corticosteroids:

Some examples of corticosteroids that may be used for pain control include:
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Prednisone
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Cortisone

Potential Corticosteroid Side Effects:

Like any pain medication, corticosteroids have potential side effects. These include:
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Skin changes, such as acne, redness or excess hair growth
  • Psychological changes, such as anxiety, depression or mood swings
  • A change in menstrual cycles
Unless these symptoms persist or become bothersome, it is usually not necessary to seek medical advice.

Serious Corticosteroid Side Effects:

Some side effects of corticosteroids require immediate medical attention. If any of the following symptoms occur while taking a corticosteroid, contact your doctor immediately:
  • Excessive swelling in the hands, feet or face
  • A rash that does not go away
  • Visual changes or eye pain
  • Tarry bowel movements
  • New muscle pains or weakness

Sources:

DailyMed Current Medical Information, National Institutes of Health. Hydrocortisone Tablet. Accessed 11/21/09. http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?id=8739

Medline Plus. Hydrocortisone Injection. Accessed 11/21/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682871.html

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