Medically reviewed by Jenny Blair, MD
Corticosteriods, also known as steroids, are a type of anti-inflammatory drug that have been used to treat IBD since the 1950s. Common corticosteroids used to treat IBD include budesonide, methylprednisolone, prednisolone, and prednisone; they can be administered orally, rectally, or intravenously.
Even though steroids were one of the first treatments available for IBD, today they’re primarily prescribed for a short period in order to get an active IBD flare under control. From there, your treatment plan should shift to focus on newer medications that are proven to be safer for treating IBD long-term and more effective at preventing disease progression and maintaining remission.
While there are serious long-term side effects related to long-term use of corticosteroids, if you have been prescribed a corticosteroid for IBD, it’s important to take it exactly as directed. Here’s why:
1. They’re the go-to for treating flares.
If you have active IBD, it’s likely that you’ll be prescribed a corticosteroid. These highly effective medications act fast to treat the flare and get IBD under control. Most people start to feel better within days of taking corticosteroids.
2. They help reduce underlying inflammation.
They’re called anti-inflammatory for a reason—corticosteroids help reduce inflammation both in the intestine where the IBD is flaring as well as throughout your entire body, including your joints, skin, and eyes.
3. You may experience negative side effects if you stop taking these medications abruptly.
Even though they’re not meant for long-term use, if you’ve been prescribed a corticosteroid, do not stop taking this medication without instruction from your doctor. That’s because corticosteroids can affect your body’s ability to produce cortisol, and after treatment, it takes time for your body to start producing this vital hormone again. Your doctor will instruct you on the proper way to taper your corticosteroid medication so that your body can adjust back to suppling its own levels of cortisol accordingly.
Corticosteroids Should Only Be Used When Truly Needed
Since corticosteroids work so well to control IBD flares quickly, many people who have IBD are happy relying on corticosteroid treatment. However, long-term steroid use can lead to problems. If you find you regularly need corticosteroids to treat IBD flares and gain control of your symptoms, you may benefit from a change in your long-term treatment strategy. There are safer medications available to help you achieve and maintain remission over time, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your options and participate in a shared decision-making process to determine which treatment is best for you.
Jenny Blair is a writer and journalist covering science, medicine, and the humanities. She earned her MD at Yale University, then completed a residency in emergency medicine at the University of Chicago. After several years in practice, she transitioned to working with words and ideas full-time. Jenny has contributed to Discover, New Scientist, Washington Spectator, and Medtech Insight, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
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