Corticosteroid medications mimic the effects of the hormones that the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys produce, explains Mayo Clinic. They help suppress inflammation and the immune system, making them useful for treating conditions related to swelling and autoimmune disorders. Oral corticosteroid medications are often prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, while inhaled preparations of these drugs may be prescribed for asthma. Topical creams containing corticosteroids may be used to heal skin conditions, and injections of these drugs are useful to reducing the pain and inflammation of tendinitis.
Because of these side effects, doctors frequently choose safer medications, such as the 5-ASA drugs and antibiotics, as initial therapy. But there are a number of ways to reduce the risk of developing side effects. These include rapid but careful tapering off of steroids; alternate-day dosing; rectally applied corticosteroids; and rapidly metabolized corticosteroids such as budesonide (described above). To help prevent osteoporosis, many doctors routinely prescribe calcium supplements as well as multivitamins that contain vitamin D. Another option is the use of bisphosphonates, such as risedronate (Actonel®) and alendronate (Fosamax®). These compounds, which have been shown to help avert bone loss, are effective in treating and preventing steroid-induced osteoporosis.