Oral, Injections, Topical Steroids For Rheumatoid Arthritis: Risks and Side Effects

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition in which the small joints of hands and feet get swollen, stiff and painful. It is a progressive condition and without proper treatment can lead to joint destruction and disability.

If diagnosed early and treated on time, the symptoms and quality of life of the patients can improve. The treatment includes antirheumatic drugs, combined with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and low steroid doses.

Steroids For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Steroids are synthetic compounds that are similar to cortisol, a hormone produced by adrenal glands naturally. Years ago it was used as a standard treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Due to the harmful side effects of steroids and the development of new types of drugs for this condition, their use has become less.
  • The doctors are now advised to use the lowest possible amount of steroids and for the shortest time in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.(1)
  • Steroids are given either orally, as injections or topical applications.

Oral Steroid For Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Oral steroids are available in pill, capsule, or liquid form. They help reduce inflammation thus bringing relief in swelling, pain, and stiffness of the joint. They also help regulate the autoimmune system and suppress the flare-ups.
  • Common steroids used for rheumatoid arthritis are prednisone, hydrocortisone, dexamethasone, triamcinolone, betamethasone, and methylprednisolone.
  • Prednisone is the most commonly used steroid for rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

Steroid Injections For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Steroids injections are injected into the joints or the area of pain and swelling by the doctor. It gives relief to these symptoms. It is done along with the other prescribed drugs.

These injections provide relief from the local and systemic symptoms.(2) A study done, found that in a few cases, the steroid injections were found successful in reducing the size of the RA nodule.(3)

Topical Steroids For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Topical steroids and over-the-counter prescription drugs are used by people to provide local pain relief.

Risk of Using Steroids For Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

Due to the risk involved, the use of steroids for rheumatoid arthritis treatment is a bit controversial.

The risk of using steroid in treating rheumatoid arthritis includes:

Heart Attack: A study found that people taking steroids for rheumatoid arthritis had an increased risk of heart attack.(4)

Osteoporosis: There is a major risk of suffering from osteoporosis in inducing steroids for long term.(5)

Increased Mortality Rate: There might be an increase in mortality with steroid use.

There are chances of suffering from cataracts and diabetes with prolonged usage of steroids.

Side Effects Of Using Steroids

The side effects of using the steroid to treat rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Increase in the risk of bacterial and viral infection
  • Increase in blood sugar level
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Round face
  • Leg swelling
  • Mood disruption
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Easy bruising
  • Lowered bone mineral density

There are some temporary side effects of steroid injections on the joints such as:

  • Skin irritation
  • Allergic reaction
  • Skin thinning
  • Steroids in low doses can be a part of the treatment plan of rheumatoid arthritis as they fasten the process of relieving pain and swelling.
  • Start using them only after you are well aware of its numerous side effects.

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