Prednisone and other corticosteroids

Weigh the benefits and risks of corticosteroids, such as prednisone, when choosing a medication.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Corticosteroid drugs — including cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone — are useful in treating many conditions, such as rashes, lupus and asthma. But these drugs also carry a risk of serious side effects. Working with your doctor, you can take steps to reduce these side effects so that the benefits of corticosteroid treatment outweigh the risks.

How do corticosteroids work?

Corticosteroids mimic the effects of hormones your body produces naturally in your adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys. When prescribed in doses that exceed your body's usual levels, corticosteroids suppress inflammation. This can reduce the signs and symptoms of inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and asthma.

Corticosteroids also suppress your immune system, which can help control conditions in which your immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues.

How are corticosteroids used?

Corticosteroid drugs are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, allergies and many other conditions. They also treat Addison's disease, a condition where the adrenal glands aren't able to produce even the minimum amount of corticosteroid that the body needs. And these drugs also help suppress the immune system in order to prevent organ rejection in transplant recipients.

You can take corticosteroids:

  • By mouth. Tablets, capsules or syrups help treat the inflammation and pain associated with certain chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • By inhaler and intranasal spray. These forms help control inflammation associated with asthma and nasal allergies.
  • Topically. Creams and ointments can help heal many skin conditions.
  • By injection. This form is often used to treat muscle and joint signs and symptoms, such as the pain and inflammation of tendinitis.
Nov. 26, 2015