What are Medical Steroids?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Medical steroids may have a couple of differing definitions. First, they may refer only to steroids that are anabolic or that are similar in composition to hormones like testosterone, which is primarily produced in the male body. In this context, the adjective "medical" is used to differentiate between prescribed steroids and unauthorized steroid use for things like body building or performance enhancing, which are discouraged by the medical community. Alternately, medical steroids could refer to all steroids including corticosteroids that may be used to treat medical conditions.

In this second definition, medical steroids include corticosteroids, which may be used as anti-inflammatory drugs. A number of conditions are treated with corticosteroids including severe asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases, transplant rejection, and inflammatory bowel or intestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease. Medications like prednisone and budesonide (Entocort®) are some of the most common corticosteroids used and they may be taken orally, injected, or inhaled depending on the condition they treat.

Another common member of the medical steroids that is a corticosteroid is hydrocortisone or cortisol. Hydrocortisone is available in weak strength preparations over the counter and might be used in ointment form to treat minor skin irritations. Higher strengths of this steroid are available by prescription and could be used as skin ointment or in different preparations for many medical purposes.


Sometimes the term medical steroids addresses testosterone based steroids that may be abused. Continued concern about doping with anabolic steroids plagues many types of professional sports leagues and there are some severe consequences that may result from using anabolic steroids without medical need. It is just as important to remark that anabolic steroids have many legitimate uses worth exploring.

Different formulations of anabolic steroids might be prescribed to address conditions where males have low levels of testosterone that creates perpetual problems with energy, mood and/or sexual dysfunction. Some conditions arrest puberty in young males and can be treated with testosterone. Diseases that create body wasting or significant weight loss might also be treated with medical steroids; this is particularly the case when people can’t gain weight due to ongoing illnesses like cancer or HIV.

Administration of any form of medical steroids has risks and benefits. Doctors plan use very carefully so that people do not constantly take either anabolic steroids or corticosteroids, unless it's absolutely needed. Using limited doses may help minimize side effects that in corticosteroids include greater likelihood of infections and in anabolic steroids hazard significant changes in mood, adverse effects to the cardiovascular system, and other side effects. Given these risks, many argue that steroids should always be used medically, and never in non-medical settings.


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