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Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids

Definition

Corticosteroids are group of natural and synthetic analogues of the hormones secreted by the hypothalamic-anterior pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, more commonly referred to as the pituitary gland. These include glucocorticoids, which are anti-inflammatory agents with a large number of other functions; mineralocorticoids, which control salt and water balance primarily through action on the kidneys; and corticotropins, which control secretion of hormones by the pituitary gland.

Purpose

Glucocorticoids have multiple effects, and are used for a large number of conditions. They affect glucose utilization, fat metabolism, and bone development, and are potent anti-inflammatory agents. They may be used for replacement of natural hormones in patients with pituitary deficiency (Addison's disease), as well as for a wide number of other conditions including, but not limited to, arthritis, asthma, anemia, various cancers, and skin inflammations. Additional uses include inhibition of nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, treatment of septic shock, treatment of spinal cord injuries, and treatment of hirisutism (excessive hair growth). The choice of drug will vary with the condition. Cortisone and hydrocortisone, which have both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid effects, are the drugs of choice for replacement therapy of natural hormone deficiency. Synthetic compounds, which have greater anti-inflammatory effects and less effect on salt and water balance, are usually preferred for other purposes. These compounds include dexamethasone, which is almost exclusively glucocorticoid in its actions, as well as prednisone, prednisolone, betamethasone, trimacinolone, and others. Glucocorticoids are formulated in oral dosage forms, topical creams and ointments, oral and nasal inhalations, rectal foams, and ear and eye drops.

Mineralocorticoids control the retention of sodium in the kidneys. In mineralocorticoid deficiency, there is excessive loss of sodium through the kidneys, with resulting water loss. Fludrocortisone (Florinef) is the only drug available for treatment of mineralocorticoid deficiency, and is available only in an oral dosage form.

Corticotropin (ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone) stimulates the pituitary gland to release cortisone. A deficiency of corticotropic hormone will have the same effects as a deficiency of cortisone. The hormone, which is available under the brand names Acthar and Actrel, is used for diagnostic testing, to determine the cause of a glucocorticoid deficiency, but is rarely used for replacement therapy since direct administration of glucocorticoids may be easier and offers better control over dosages.

Recommended dosage

The dosage of glucocorticoids varies with the drug, route of administration, condition being treated, and patient. Consult specific references.

Fludrocortisone, for use in replacement therapy, is normally dosed at 0.1 mg/day. Some patients require higher doses. It should normally be administered in conjunction with cortisone or hydrocortisone.

ACTH, when used for diagnostic purposes, is given as 10 to 25 units dissolved in 500 ml of 5% dextrose injection infused IV over eight hours. A long-acting form, which may be used for replacement therapy, is given by subcutaneous (SC) or intramuscular (IM) injection at a dose of 40 to 80 units every 24-72 hours.

Precautions

Glucocorticoids

The most significant risk associated with administration of glucocorticoids is suppression of natural corticosteroid secretion. When the hormones are administered, they suppress the secretion of ACTH, which in turn reduces the secretion of the natural hormones. The extent of suppression varies with dose, drug potency, duration of treatment, and individual patient response. While suppression is seen primarily with drugs administered systemically, it can also occur with topical drugs such as creams and ointments, or drugs administered by inhalation. Abrupt cessation of corticosteroids may result in acute adrenal crisis (Addisonian crisis) that is marked by dehydration with severe vomiting and diarrhea, hypotension, and loss of consciousness. Acute adrenal crisis is potentially fatal.

Chronic overdose of glucocorticoids leads to Cushingoid syndrome, which is clinically identical to Cushing's syndrome and differs only in that in Cushingoid the excessive steroids are from drug therapy rather than excessive glandular secretion. Symptoms vary, but most people have upper body obesity, rounded face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning arms and legs. In its later stages, this condition leads to weakening of bones and muscles with rib and spinal column fractures.

The short term adverse effects of corticosteroids are generally mild, and include indigestion, increased appetite, insomnia, and nervousness. There are also a very large number of infrequent adverse reactions, the most significant of which is drug-induced paranoia. Delirium, depression, menstrual irregularity, and increased hair growth are also possible. Consult detailed reviews for further information.

Long-term use of topical glucocorticoids can result in thinning of the skin. Oral steroid inhalations may cause fungal overgrowth in the oral cavity. Patients must be instructed to rinse their mouths carefully after each dose. Corticosteroids are pregnancy category C. The drugs have caused congenital malformations in animal studies, including cleft palate. Breastfeeding should be avoided.

Mineralocorticoids

Because fludrocortisone has glucocorticoid activity as well as mineralocorticoid action, the same hazards and precautions apply to fludrocortisone as to the glucocorticoids. Overdose of fludrocortisone may also cause edema, hypertension and congestive heart failure.

Corticotropin has all the same risks as the glucocorticoids. Prolonged use may cause reduced response to the stimulatory effects of corticotropin.

Warnings and contraindications

Use corticosteroids with caution in patients with the following conditions:

  • osteoporosis or any other bone disease
  • current or past tuberculosis
  • glaucoma or cataracts
  • infections of any type (virus, bacteria, fungus, amoeba)
  • sores in the nose or recent nose surgery (if using nasal spray forms of corticosteroids)
  • underactive or overactive thyroid
  • liver disease
  • stomach or intestine problems
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • kidney disease or kidney stones
  • myasthenia gravis
  • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • emotional problems
  • skin conditions that cause the skin to be thinner and bruise more easily

Interactions

Corticosteroids have many drug interactions. Consult specific references.

Resources

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 611 East Wells Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202. (414) 272-6071. http://www.aaaai.org.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 1125 15th Street NW, Suite 502, Washington, DC 20005. (800) 727-8462. http://www.aafa.org.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health, P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. (301) 251-1222. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/nhlbi/nhlbi.htm.

KEY TERMS

Hallucination A false or distorted perception of objects, sounds, or events that seems real. Hallucinations usually result from drugs or mental disorders.

Hormone A substance that is produced in one part of the body, then travels through the bloodstream to another part of the body where it has its effect.

Inflammation Pain, redness, swelling, and heat that usually develop in response to injury or illness.

Ointment A thick, spreadable substance that contains medicine and is meant to be used on the outside of the body.

Pregnancy category A system of classifying drugs according to their established risks for use during pregnancy. Category A: controlled human studies have demonstrated no fetal risk. Category B: animal studies indicate no fetal risk, but no human studies; or adverse effects in animals, but not in well-controlled human studies. Category C: no adequate human or animal studies; or adverse fetal effects in animal studies, but no available human data. Category D: evidence of fetal risk, but benefits outweigh risks. Category X: evidence of fetal risk. Risks outweigh any benefits.

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Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids

Definition

Corticosteroids are a group of natural and synthetic analogs (chemical cousins) of the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland, also known as the hypothalamic-anterior pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. These analogs include glucocorticoids, which are anti-inflammatory agents with a large number of other functions; mineralocorticoids, which control salt and water balance primarily through action on the kidneys; and corticotropins, which control secretion of hormones by the pituitary gland.


Purpose

Glucocorticoids have multiple effects, and are used for a large number of conditions. They affect glucose utilization and fat metabolism, bone development, and are potent anti-inflammatory agents. They may be used for replacement of natural hormones in patients with pituitary deficiency (Addison's disease), as well as for a wide number of other conditions including arthritis, asthma, anemia, various cancers, and skin inflammations. Additional uses include inhibition of nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, treatment of septic shock, treatment of spinal cord injuries, and treatment of hirsutism (excessive hair growth). The choice of drug will vary with the condition.

Cortisone and hydrocortisone, which have both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid effects, are the drugs of choice for replacement therapy of natural hormone deficiency. Synthetic compounds, which have greater anti-inflammatory effects and less effect on salt and water balance, are usually preferred for other purposes. These compounds include dexamethasone, which is almost exclusively glucocorticoid in its actions, as well as prednisone, prednisolone, betamethasone, trimacinolone, and others. Glucocorticoids are formulated in oral dosage forms, topical creams and ointments, oral and nasal inhalations, rectal foams, and ear and eye drops.

Mineralocorticoids control the retention of sodium in the kidneys. In mineralocorticoid deficiency, there is excessive loss of sodium through the kidneys, with resulting water loss. Fludrocortisone (Florinef) is the only drug available for treatment of mineralocorticoid deficiency, and is available only in an oral form.

Corticotropin (ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone) stimulates the pituitary gland to release cortisone. A deficiency of corticotropic hormone will have the same effects as a deficiency of cortisone. The hormone, which is available under the brand names Acthar and Actrel, is used for diagnostic testing to determine the cause of a glucocorticoid deficiency. It is rarely used for replacement therapy, however, since direct administration of glucocorticoids may be easier and offers better control over dosages.


Recommended dosage

Dosage of glucocorticoids varies with drug, route of administration, condition being treated, and patient.

Fludrocortisone, for use in replacement therapy, is normally dosed at 0.1 mg/day. Some patients require higher doses. It should normally be taken in conjunction with cortisone or hydrocortisone.

ACTH, when used for diagnostic purposes, is given as 10 to 25 units by intravenous solution over eight hours. A long-acting form, which may be used for replacement therapy, is given by subcutaneous (SC) or intramuscular (IM) injection at a dose of 40 to 80 units every 2472 hours.


Precautions

The most significant risk associated with administration of glucocorticoids is suppression of natural corticosteroid secretion. When the hormones are administered, they suppress the secretion of ACTH, which in turn reduces the secretion of the natural hormones. The extent of suppression varies with dose, drug potency, duration of treatment, and individual patient response. While suppression is seen primarily with drugs administered systemically, it can also occur with topical drugs such as creams and ointments, or drugs administered by inhalation. Abrupt cessation of corticosteroids may result in acute adrenal crisis (Addisonian crisis) which is marked by dehydration with severe vomiting and diarrhea, hypotension, and loss of consciousness. Acute adrenal crisis is potentially fatal.

Chronic overdose of glucocorticoids leads to Cushingoid syndrome, which is clinically identical to Cushing's syndrome. The only difference is that in Cushingoid, the excessive steroids are from drug therapy rather than excessive glandular secretion. Symptoms vary, but most people have upper body obesity, rounded face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning arms and legs. In its later stages, this condition leads to weakening of bones and muscles with rib and spinal column fractures.

The short-term adverse effects of corticosteroids are generally mild, and include indigestion, increased appetite, insomnia, and nervousness. There are also a very large number of infrequent adverse reactions, the most significant of which is drug-induced paranoia. Delirium, depression, menstrual irregularity, and increased hair growth are also possible.

Long-term use of topical glucocorticoids can result in thinning of the skin. Oral steroid inhalations may cause fungal overgrowth in the oral cavity. Patients must be instructed to rinse their mouths carefully after each dose.

Corticosteroids are included in pregnancy category C. The pregnancy category system classifies drugs according to their established risks for use during pregnancy. Corticosteroids have caused congenital malformations in animal studies, including cleft palate. Breastfeeding while taking these medications should be avoided.

Because fludrocortisone has glucocorticoid activity as well as mineralocorticoid action, the same hazards and precautions apply to fludrocortisone as to the glucocorticoids. Overdose of fludrocortisone may also cause edema (swelling), hypertension, and congestive heart failure.

Corticotropin has all the same risks as the glucocorticoids. Prolonged use may cause reduced response to the stimulatory effects of corticotropin.


Warnings

Patients with the following conditions should use corticosteroids with caution:

  • osteoporosis or any other bone disease
  • current or past tuberculosis
  • glaucoma or cataracts
  • infections of any type (virus, bacteria, fungus, amoeba)
  • sores in the nose or recent nose surgery (if using nasal spray forms of corticosteroids)
  • underactive or overactive thyroid
  • liver disease
  • stomach or intestine problems
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • kidney disease or kidney stones
  • myasthenia gravis
  • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • emotional problems
  • skin conditions that cause the skin to be thinner and bruise more easily

Interactions

Corticosteroids interact with many other drugs a patient might take. Patients should inform their doctor about all other medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) they take, and discuss possible interactions.

Resources

books

brody, t. m., j. larner, k. p. minneman, and h. c. neu. human pharmacology: molecular to clinical, 2nd ed. st. louis: mosby year-book, 1998.

griffith, h. w., and s. moore. 2001 complete guide to prescription and nonprescription drugs. new york: berkely publishing group, 2001.

organizations

american academy of allergy, asthma and immunology. 611 east wells street, milwaukee, wi 53202. telephone: (414) 2726071. web site: <http://www.aaaai.org>.

asthma and allergy foundation of america. 1125 15th street nw, suite 502, washington, dc 20005. telephone: (800) 7278462. web site: <http://www.aafa.org>.

national heart, lung and blood institute. national institutes of health, p.o. box 30105, bethesda, md 20824-0105. telephone: (301) 2511222. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/nhlbi/nhlbi.htm>.


Samuel Uretsky, PharmD

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Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids

Definition

Corticosteroids are a group of related drugs used in cancer treatment to reduce the growth of tumors, stimulate the appetite, and treat skin rashes, nausea and vomiting , allergic reactions, inflammation, accumulation of fluid in the brain, and autoimmune disease.

Purpose

Corticosteroids have broad use in cancer treatment. Some are used to treat adult leukemias, adult lymphomas, acute childhood leukemia, multiple myeloma , and advanced prostate cancer . Others are used in creams to treat skin rashes from radiation therapy . Corticosteroids are also used to reduce swelling, especially in the brain and spinal column, reduce nausea and vomiting, and improve appetite.

Description

Corticosteroids occur naturally in the body. They are produced by the cortex of the adrenal glands, a small, pea-sized pair of glands that are located in the lower back, just above the kidney. Some corticosteroids regulate fluid balance in the body. Others influence fat and sugar (glucose) usage. Corticosteroids are chemically related to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone .

Many different corticosteroids are produced artificially to use as drugs. They are administered as creams, tablets, liquids, or intravenously (or injection directly into a vein). Many people are already familiar with hydrocortisone, a corticosteroid found in low doses in over-the-counter creams.

The most common corticosteroids used in cancer treatment are:

  • dexamethasone (Decadron)
  • hydrocortisone
  • methylprednisolone (Medrol)
  • prednisone
  • cortisone
  • betamethasone
  • prednisolone

There are many trade names for drugs containing these corticosteroids.

Recommended dosage

Corticosteroids come in tablets, liquids, intravenous solutions, and creams. Because of their wide variety of uses and forms, there is no standard recommended dose. Dosage is individualized, and depends on the type of cancer, the patient's body weight and general health, the goal of the treatment, the other drugs being given, and the way a patient's cancer responds to the drug. Corticosteroids should be stored away from heat.

Precautions

People taking corticosteroids may want to go on a low-salt, high-potassium diet in order to reduce water retention. They may also want to watch their calorie intake unless corticosteroids are being given to improve appetite. Patients taking large doses of corticosteroids are more susceptible to infection and should try to avoid contact with crowds or any individuals that may have an infection. Patients should seek immediate medical advice if they are exposed to chicken pox or measles.

Side effects

Corticosteroids have several side effects. Not every side effect is seen in every patient. The most serious, although rare, side effect is an allergic reaction to corticosteroids when given intravenously (IV). Other side effects can include:

  • salt and water retention
  • excessive potassium loss
  • high blood pressure
  • other fluid and electrolyte imbalances
  • loss of muscle tissue
  • loss of bone strength (osteoporosis)
  • easily fractured bones
  • heartburn and ulcers
  • thin, fragile skin
  • slow wound healing
  • skin rashes
  • masking of infection
  • convulsions
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • reproductive irregularities
  • strong mood changes
  • changes in the functioning of the adrenal gland
  • increased pressure in the eye
  • glaucoma, cataracts, and blindness (rare)
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • increased appetite
  • weight gain
  • increased urination

Interactions

Many drugs interact with nonprescription (over-the-counter) drugs and herbal remedies. Patients should always tell their health care providers about these remedies, as well as any prescription drugs they are taking. Patients should also notify their physician if they are on a special diet.

Corticosteroids can also interact with anticoagulants (blood thinners such as Coumadin), cyclosporine , phenobarbitol, and antidepressants.

Tish Davidson, A.M.

KEY TERMS

Autoimmune disease

An illness occurring when the body's tissues are attacked by its own immune system

Intravenous injection

Injection directly into the vein

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Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids

Definition

A group of natural and synthetic analogues of the hormones secreted by the hypothalamic-anterior pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, more commonly referred to as the pituitary gland. These include glucocorticoids, which are anti-inflammatory agents with a large number of other functions; mineralocorticoids, which control salt and water balance primarily through action on the kidneys; and corticotropins, which control secretion of hormones by the pituitary gland.

Purpose

Glucocorticoids have multiple effects, and are used for a large number of conditions. They affect glucose utilization and fat metabolism, bone development, and are potent anti-inflammatory agents. They may be used for replacement of natural hormones in patients with pituitary deficiency (Addison's disease), as well as for a wide number of other conditions including but not limited to arthritis, asthma, anemia, various cancers, and skin inflammations. Additional uses include inhibition of nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, treatment of septic shock, treatment of spinal cord injuries, and treatment of hirsutism (excessive hair growth). The choice of drug will vary with the condition. Cortisone and hydrocortisone, which have both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid effects, are the drugs of choice for replacement therapy of natural hormone deficiency. Synthetic compounds, which have greater anti-inflammatory effects and less effect on salt and water balance, are usually preferred for other purposes. These compounds include dexamethasone, which is almost exclusively glucocorticoid in its actions, as well as prednisone, prednisolone, betamethasone, trimacinolone, and others. Glucocorticoids are formulated in oral dosage forms, topical creams and ointments, oral and nasal inhalations, rectal foams, and ear and eye drops.

Mineralocorticoids control the retention of sodium in the kidneys. In mineralocorticoid deficiency, there is excessive loss of sodium through the kidneys, with resulting water loss. Fludrocortisone (Florinef) is the only drug available for treatment of mineralocorticoid deficiency, and is available only in an oral dosage form.

Corticotropin (ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone) stimulates the pituitary gland to release cortisone. A deficiency of corticotropic hormone will have the same effects as a deficiency of cortisone. The hormone, which is available under the brand names Acthar and Actrel, is used for diagnostic testing, to determine the cause of a glucocorticoid deficiency, but is rarely used for replacement therapy since direct administration of glucocorticoids may be easier and offers better control over dosages.

Recommended dosage

Dosage of glucocorticoids varies with drug, route of administration, condition being treated, and patient. Consult specific references.

Fludrocortisone, for use in replacement therapy, is normally dosed at 0.1 mg/day. Some patients require higher doses. It should normally be administered in conjunction with cortisone or hydrocortisone.

ACTH, when used for diagnostic purposes, is given as 10 to 25 units dissolved in 500 ml of 5% Dextrose Injection infused IV over eight hours. A long-acting form, which may be used for replacement therapy, is given by subcutaneous (SC) or intramuscular (IM) injection at a dose of 40 to 80 units every 24-72 hours.

Precautions

The most significant risk associated with administration of glucocorticoids is suppression of natural corticosteroid secretion. When the hormones are administered, they suppress the secretion of ACTH, which in turn reduces the secretion of the natural hormones. The extent of suppression varies with dose, drug potency, duration of treatment, and individual patient response. While suppression is seen primarily with drugs administered systemically, it can also occur with topical drugs such as creams and ointments, or drugs administered by inhalation. Abrupt cessation of corticosteroids may result in acute adrenal crisis (Addisonian crisis) which is marked by dehydration with severe vomiting and diarrhea, hypotension, and loss of consciousness. Acute adrenal crisis is potentially fatal.

Chronic overdose of glucocorticoids leads to Cushingoid syndrome, which is clinically identical to Cushing's syndrome and differs only in that in Cushingoid, the excessive steroids are from drug therapy rather than excessive glandular secretion. Symptoms vary, but most people have upper body obesity, rounded face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning arms and legs. In its later stages, this condition leads to weakening of bones and muscles with rib and spinal column fractures.

The short term adverse effects of corticosteroids are generally mild, and include indigestion, increased appetite, insomnia, and nervousness. There are also a very large number of infrequent adverse reactions, the most significant of which is drug-induced paranoia. Delerium, depression, menstrual irregularity, and increased hair growth are also possible. Consult detailed reviews for further information.

Long-term use of topical glucocorticoids can result in thinning of the skin. Oral steroid inhalations may cause fungal overgrowth in the oral cavity. Patients must be instructed to rinse their mouths carefully after each dose. Corticosteroids are pregnancy category C. The drugs have caused congenital malformations in animal studies, including cleft palate. Breastfeeding should be avoided.

Because fludrocortisone has glucocorticoid activity as well as mineralocorticoid action, the same hazards and precautions apply to fludrocortisone as to the glucocorticoids. Overdose of fludrocortisone may also cause edema, hypertension, and congestive heart failure.

Corticotropin has all the same risks as the glucocorticoids. Prolonged use may cause reduced response to the stimulatory effects of corticotropin.

KEY TERMS

Hallucination— A false or distorted perception of objects, sounds, or events that seems real. Hallucinations usually result from drugs or mental disorders.

Hormone— A substance that is produced in one part of the body, then travels through the bloodstream to another part of the body where it has its effect.

Inflammation— Pain, redness, swelling, and heat that usually develop in response to injury or illness.

Ointment— A thick, spreadable substance that contains medicine and is meant to be used on the outside of the body.

Pregnancy category— A system of classifying drugs according to their established risks for use during pregnancy. Category A: Controlled human studies have demonstrated no fetal risk. Category B: Animal studies indicate no fetal risk, but no human studies; or adverse effects in animals, but not in well-controlled human studies. Category C: No adequate human or animal studies; or adverse fetal effects in animal studies, but no available human data. Category D: Evidence of fetal risk, but benefits outweigh risks. Category X: Evidence of fetal risk. Risks outweigh any benefits.

Warnings and contraindications

Use corticosteroids with caution in patients with the following conditions:

  • osteoporosis or any other bone disease
  • current or past tuberculosis
  • glaucoma or cataracts
  • infections of any type (virus, bacteria, fungus, amoeba)
  • sores in the nose or recent nose surgery (if using nasal spray forms of corticosteroids)
  • underactive or overactive thyroid
  • liver disease
  • stomach or intestine problems
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • kidney disease or kidney stones
  • myasthenia gravis
  • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • emotional problems
  • skin conditions that cause the skin to be thinner and bruise more easily

Interactions

Corticosteroids have many drug interactions. Consult specific references.

Resources

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 611 East Wells Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202. (414) 272-6071. 〈http://www.aaaai.org〉.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 1125 15th Street NW, Suite 502, Washington, DC 20005. (800) 727-8462. 〈http://www.aafa.org〉.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health, P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. (301) 251-1222. 〈http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/nhlbi/nhlbi.htm〉.

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Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids

Definition
Purpose
Recommended dosage
Precautions
Interactions

Definition

Corticosteroids are a group of natural and synthetic analogs (chemical cousins) of the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland, also known as the hypothalamic-anterior pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. These analogs include glucocorticoids, which are anti-inflammatory agents with a large number of other functions; mineralocorticoids, which control salt and water balance primarily through action on the kidneys; and corticotropins, which control secretion of hormones by the pituitary gland. First introduced in 1949 for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, corticosteroids are widely used in the twenty-first century to treat conditions as varied as asthma, lung infections in AIDS patients, bacterial meningitis, and cancer-related pain.

Purpose

Glucocorticoids have multiple effects, and are used for a large number of conditions. They affect glucose (sugar) utilization and fat metabolism, bone development, and are potent anti-inflammatory agents. They may be used for replacement of natural hormones in patients with pituitary deficiency (Addison’s disease), as well as for a wide number of other conditions including arthritis, asthma, anemia, various cancers, eye disease (uveitis), inflammatory bowel disease, and skin inflammations. Additional uses include inhibition of nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, treatment of septic shock, treatment of spinal cord injuries, and treatment of hirsutism (excessive hair growth). The choice of drug will vary with the condition.

Cortisone and hydrocortisone, which have both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid effects, are the drugs of choice for replacement therapy of natural hormone deficiency. Synthetic compounds, which have greater anti-inflammatory effects and less effect on salt and water balance, are usually preferred for other purposes. These compounds include dexamethasone, which is almost exclusively glucocorticoid in its actions, as well as prednisone, prednisolone, betamethasone, triamcino-lone, and others. Glucocorticoids are formulated in oral dosage forms, topical creams and ointments, oral and nasal inhalations, rectal foams, and ear and eye drops.

Mineralocorticoids control the retention of sodium in the kidneys. In mineralocorticoid deficiency, there is excessive loss of sodium through the kidneys, with resulting water loss. Fludrocortisone (Florinef) is the only drug available for treatment of mineralocorticoid deficiency, and is available only in an oral form.

Corticotropin (ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone) stimulates the pituitary gland to release cortisone. A deficiency of corticotropic hormone will have the same effects as a deficiency of cortisone. The hormone, which is available under the brand names Acthar and Actrel, is used for diagnostic testing to determine the cause of a glucocorticoid deficiency. It is rarely used for replacement therapy, however, since direct administration of glucocorticoids may be easier and offers better control over dosages.

Recommended dosage

Dosage of glucocorticoids varies with the specific drug, the route of administration, the condition being treated, and the patient’s individual metabolism.

Fludrocortisone, for use in replacement therapy, is normally dosed at 0.1 mg/day. Some patients require higher doses. It should normally be taken in conjunction with cortisone or hydrocortisone.

ACTH, when used for diagnostic purposes, is given as 10-25 units by intravenous solution over eight hours. A long-acting form, which may be used for replacement therapy, is given by subcutaneous (SC) or intramuscular (IM) injection at a dose of 40-80 units every 24-72 hours.

Precautions

The most significant risk associated with administration of glucocorticoids is suppression of natural corticosteroid secretion. When the artificial hormones are administered, they suppress the secretion of ACTH, which in turn reduces the secretion of the natural hormones. The extent of suppression varies with dose, drug potency, duration of treatment, and individual patient response. While suppression is seen primarily with drugs

KEY TERMS

Addison’s disease— A rare endocrine disorder in which the adrenal gland does not produce enough steroid hormones.

Addisonian crisis— A medical emergency resulting from severe adrenal insufficiency. It can be caused by sudden withdrawal from oral glucocorticoid medications, as well as from damage to the adrenal gland itself. Untreated Addisonian crisis can be fatal.

Cortisol— A corticosteroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland.

Cushing’s syndrome— A condition resulting from excess cortisol in the body, characterized by high blood pressure, a round “moon” face, excessive sweating, thinning of the skin and easy bruising, and the growth of fat pads around the shoulders and back of the neck. It was first described in 1932 by Harvey Cushing, an eminent American surgeon.

Hallucination— A false or distorted perception of objects, sounds, or events that seems real. Hallucinations usually result from drugs or mental disorders.

Hirsutism— Excessive or increased growth of facial or body hair in women resembling the male pattern of hair distribution.

Hormone— A substance that is produced in one part of the body, then travels through the bloodstream to another part of the body where it has its effect.

Hypertension— High blood pressure.

Hypotension— Low blood pressure.

Inflammation— Pain, redness, swelling, and heat that usually develop in response to injury or illness.

Ointment— A thick spreadable substance that contains medicine and is meant to be used on the outside of the body.

Pregnancy category— A system of classifying drugs according to their established risks for use during pregnancy. The classifications are categories A, B, C, D, and X.

administered systemically, it can also occur with topical drugs such as creams and ointments, or drugs administered by inhalation. Abrupt cessation of corticosteroids may result in acute adrenal crisis (Addisonian crisis) which is marked by dehydration with severe vomiting and diarrhea, sudden sharp pain in the abdomen, lower back, or legs, hypotension, convulsions, mental confusion, and loss of consciousness. Acute adrenal crisis is potentially fatal.

Chronic overdose of glucocorticoids leads to Cushingoid syndrome, which is clinically identical to Cushing’s syndrome. The only difference is that in Cushingoid, the excessive steroids are from drug therapy rather than excessive glandular secretion of cortisol. Symptoms vary, but most people have upper body obesity, a rounded “moon” face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning arms and legs. In its later stages, this condition leads to weakening of bones and muscles with rib and spinal column fractures.

The short-term adverse effects of corticosteroids are generally mild, and include indigestion, increased appetite, insomnia, and nervousness. There are also a very large number of infrequent adverse reactions, the most significant of which is drug-induced paranoia. Delirium, depression, menstrual irregularity, and increased hair growth are also possible.

Long-term use of topical glucocorticoids can result in thinning of the skin or permanent damage to the retina of the eye. Oral steroid inhalations may cause fungal overgrowth in the oral cavity. Patients must be instructed to rinse their mouths carefully after each dose.

Corticosteroids are included in pregnancy category C. The pregnancy category system classifies drugs according to their established risks for use during pregnancy. Corticosteroids have caused congenital malformations in animal studies, including cleft palate. Breastfeeding while taking these medications should be avoided.

Because fludrocortisone has glucocorticoid activity as well as mineralocorticoid action, the same hazards and precautions apply to fludrocortisone as to the glucocorticoids. Overdose of fludrocortisone may also cause edema (swelling), hypertension, and congestive heart failure.

Corticotropin has all the same risks as the glucocorticoids. Prolonged use may cause reduced response to the stimulatory effects of corticotropin.

Warnings

Patients with the following conditions should use corticosteroids with caution:

  • osteoporosis or any other bone disease
  • current or past tuberculosis
  • glaucoma or cataracts
  • infections of any type (virus, bacteria, fungus, ameba)
  • sores in the nose or recent nose surgery (if using nasal spray forms of corticosteroids)
  • an underactive or overactive thyroid gland
  • liver disease
  • stomach or intestine problems
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • kidney disease or kidney stones
  • myasthenia gravis
  • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • emotional problems
  • skin conditions that cause the skin to be thinner and bruise more easily

Interactions

Corticosteroids interact with many other drugs a patient might take; they reduce the effectiveness of vaccination in some patients. Patients taking barbiturates as sleep medications may need higher doses of corticosteroids. Smoking reduces the effectiveness of inhaled corticosteroids. Patients should inform their doctor about all other medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) they take, and discuss possible interactions.

Resources

BOOKS

Abrams, Anne C., Carol B. Lammon, and Sandra S. Pennington. Clinical Drug Therapy: Rationales for Nursing Practice, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2007.

Griffith, H. W., and S. Moore. 2001 Complete Guide to Prescription and Nonprescription Drugs. New York: Berkely Publishing Group, 2001.

Neal, Michael J. Medical Pharmacology at a Glance, 5th ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

PERIODICALS

Bacharier, L. B., H. H. Raissy, L. Wilson, et al. “Long-term Effect of Budesonide on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Function in Children with Mild to Moderate Asthma.” Pediatrics 113 (June 2004): 1693–1699.

Greenwood, B. M. “Corticosteroids for Acute Bacterial Meningitis.” New England Journal of Medicine 357 (December 13, 2007): 2507–2509.

Hubbard, R., et al. “Use of Inhaled Corticosteroids and the Risk of Fracture.” Chest 130 (October 2006): 1082–1088.

Kroon, L. A. “Drug Interactions with Smoking.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy 64 (September 15, 2007): 1917–1921.

Rodrigo, G. J. “Rapid Effects of Inhaled Corticosteroids in Acute Asthma: An Evidence-based Evaluation.” Chest 130 (November 2006): 1301–1311.

Zoorob, Roger J., and Dawn Cender. “A Different Look at Corticosteroids.” American Family Physician 58 (August 1998): 443–450.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 611 East Wells Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202. Telephone: (414) 272-6071. Web site: http://www.aaaai.org (accessed March 11, 2008).

Arthritis Foundation. 1330 West Peachtree Street, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30309. (800) 283-7800 or (404) 872-7100. http://www.arthritis.org/index.php (accessed March 11,2008).

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 1125 15th Street NW, Suite 502, Washington, DC 20005. Telephone: (800) 727-8462. Web site: http://www.aafa.org (accessed March 11, 2008).

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health, P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. Telephone: (301) 592-8573. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ (accessed March 11, 2008).

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857-0001. (888) INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332). http://www.fda.gov/ (accessed March 11, 2008).

Samuel Uretsky, PharmD

Rebecca Frey, PhD

Cosmetic surgery seePlastic, reconstructive, and cosmetic surgery

Cotrel-Dubousset spinal instrumentation seeSpinal instrumentation

CPR seeCardiopulmonary resuscitation

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"Corticosteroids." The Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Oct. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Corticosteroids." The Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests. . Retrieved October 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/corticosteroids-3

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