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What are oral corticosteroids?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are man-made versions of hormones made by the body's adrenal gland. They are powerful drugs that reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. They can have serious side effects, especially if taken for long periods. People who need to stop taking them must do it slowly, by taking smaller and smaller (tapered) doses. If you take a corticosteroid, follow your doctor's directions carefully.

People recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are often given a low-dose corticosteroid, along with methotrexate or another DMARD. The corticosteroid is reduced slowly over time, and stopped as the DMARD takes full effect. To avoid side effects, doctors recommend keeping corticosteroid treatment as short as possible (6 months, at most). Corticosteroids are almost never given for RA without a DMARD.

People in RA remission who have a flare-up may be given corticosteroids, along with DMARDs or biologics. As with early disease, the goal is to reduce inflammation and joint damage in the short-term, until other drugs take full effect. Corticosteroids are tapered and stopped as soon as possible. 

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.