Corticosteroids are used to treat inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as axial spondyloarthritis. They can also be used to treat a single inflamed joint.
Corticosteroids can be taken by mouth as tablets or liquid. They can also be given by injection into a joint, muscle or soft tissue.
These medicines have a strong and rapid anti-inflammatory effect and reduce pain and swelling. However they do not cure the disease and due to the risk of long term side effects your doctor will try and limit their use.
How they are used:
Your doctor will prescribe the lowest possible dose for the shortest time, due to the risk of side effects. You may need to restart corticosteroids again during a ‘flare’ (when symptoms worsen for a period of time).
Corticosteroids can have serious side effects if taken in high doses or for a long time (more than a few weeks). Your doctor will monitor you for side effects while you are taking corticosteroids. Side effects include weight gain, thinning of the bones (osteoporosis), high blood pressure increased risk of diabetes and increased susceptibility to infection. Your doctor will monitor these risks and implement preventative measures when required. Corticosteroid injections usually produce fewer side effects than tablets.
Important medicine tips
- Tell your doctor immediately if you have any signs of infection.
- Corticosteroids can affect your mood, e.g. you may feel more happy or sad than usual. It may also cause problems with sleeping; talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
- Do not stop taking corticosteroids suddenly unless your doctor tells you to. Your doctor will usually give you a plan on when and how to reduce the dose gradually when stopping treatment.
- Tell all doctors, surgeons and dentists treating you that you are taking corticosteroids (or have taken them in the past) because if you become ill or are going to have surgery your dose of medicine may need to be increased.
- Understand why you are taking the medicine and what the possible side effects are. Ask your pharmacist for the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflet for your medicine. See the Australian Rheumatology Association’s Patient Medicine Information or ask your rheumatologist for a copy.
- Always read all medicine labels and take your medicines as directed. If you have any questions check with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Keep a personal record of all your medicines with you, including doses and allergies. This can be useful when you are talking to your doctor or pharmacist.
- Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medicines, including natural medicines, as some medicines cause problems if taken together.
- Do not share your medicines with friends or relatives – the medicines you are taking may be harmful to them.
CONTACT YOUR LOCAL ARTHRITIS OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ARTHRITIS AND SUPPORT SERVICES.
This resource has been developed based on the best available evidence. A full list of references is available upon request.
Page updated October 2023