Steroids are prescribed to reduce inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica and other inflammatory conditions. Although they don’t cure the condition, they reduce symptoms such as swelling, pain and stiffness. The most commonly prescribed oral steroid is prednisolone.
If you have been on steroids for a long time, there can be withdrawal symptoms if you stop them suddenly. Therefore, the dose is normally tapered down slowly before stopping altogether. In some cases, you may be prescribed a low “maintenance” dose of steroid on a long term basis.
There are some side effects associated with taking steroids, including weight gain, stomach pains or indigestion, osteoporosis, bruising and thinning of the skin. If you have diabetes, steroids can make it more difficult to control your blood sugar levels. Because steroids can reduce the action of the immune system, it is important to tell your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of infection.
Steroids are also available as injections. They can be injected directly into a troublesome joint to provide targeted relief from swelling and pain, or a long-acting steroid can be injected into the buttock to provide general (or “systemic”) relief from symptoms.
Sometimes, the steroid injection will be mixed with a local anaesthetic to provide some immediate pain relief, and you may also notice some numbness as a result of this. The local anaesthetic usually wears off within 24 hours. You may be advised to get a lift home after the procedure, as the joint numbness may affect your ability to drive. If you have had a joint injection, you are advised to rest the joint for at least one day.
There can be side effects associated with steroid injections, and they are similar to those seen with steroid tablets, however, this will very much depend on the strength of the steroid used and how often the injections are required. Your doctor will be able to discuss this with you. There are also additional complications to be aware of with injections, but these are thankfully very rare. They include infection, bleeding and pain. If you have any concerns about this, please speak to your doctor.