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Steroid Injections for Arthritis

Updated on December 11, 2012

Steroids for treating arthritis

Basic information on steroids:

Steroids is a short way of saying "corticosteroids." Corticosteroids, or steroids, are somewhat like cortisol, a hormoe that the body makes naturally.

Steroids work, powerfully, by decreasing inflammation and by reducing the unwanted activity of the immune system, as needed. By this action, steroids can be used to treat a range of inflammatory diseases and bothersome conditions.

Keep in mind now, that corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids (which some athletes use to increase muscle mass, to increase athletic performance).

Medications such as triamcinolone, cortisone, and prednisone, or methylprednisolone, are examples of corticosteroids.

How does one get steroids into the body so that they can treat arthritis?

You can purchase creams or ointments (called topical medications) and rub them into the skin. You can also obtain pills or capsules that contain steroids, and take the medication by mouth (orally). Or, you can have the steroids injected (which is the subject of this composition).

Injection is often the most effective way to get the greatest, immediate effect, because the steroids are, directly placed into a vein or muscle, or directly injected into a joint or bursa (so that tendons and bones, and other soft tissues, can get immediate exposure steroids.

Steroids work to help treat arthritis by "working against the normal action of the immune system."

The above sentence sound sort of paradoxical, yet, it is a true statement.

It is a fact, that steroids decrease inflammation, thereby, decreasing the action of the immune system. We know that our white blood cells, and other chemicals, helps the body to fight off infections and causes of infections (such as bacteria and viruses (and fungi)).

There are other disease states in which the body's immune system fails to function correctly and there is an "overactive" state that results because of this over-activity. This set of events causes inflammation, which is usually a good thing, to work against the body's own tissues, thereby, causing damage. When this reaction happens we see redness, warmness, swelling and pain (in the case of arthritis, in the joints).

This is where steroids, in medical treatment plans, do the work of reducing the action of the immune system, by affecting the action of white blood cells.

This discourse is being written to stress the effectiveness of steroids in the treatment of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout (a form of arthritis also). However, steroids can be used to slow down the progression of kedney failure in people who suffer from lupus or vasculitis. Also, those patients who suffer from Sjogren's syndrome or myositis (inflammation of muscle) may be helped by steroid therapy.

Again, why are steroid injections helpful?

When doctors inject steroids into an area of inflammation (say, into a painful joint), this allows him or her to deliver a high dose of the drug, directly, into the problem area. When doctors are treating patients with steroids by mouth or by using the IV route, that is always a concern that enough of the substance may not be getting into the problem area. Equally important, there is a concern that the risk of side effects is much higher with oral and IV steroids.

To summarize:

Doctors like to inject steroids directly into joints to treat rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or other inflammatory diseases. The inject steroids into bursa or around tendons near joints also, as necessary. Oftentimes, relief can be obtained, in cases of osteoarthritis, when steroids are injected directly into swollen or painful joints.

I am not a rheumatologist, (I have spent most of my working life doing bone marrow transplantation research, drug safety studies and primary care), therefore, I always advise those who suffer, severely from rheumatic disease (or arthritis) to seek the care of a rheumatologist. It may seem like the financial cost is greater, but in the long run, that is, over a lifetime, the cost is well worth the better outcome.


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