What Are Corticosteroid Injections?

Corticosteroids are drugs that are designed to mimic cortisol. This is a hormone that has anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Corticosteroids are also called glucocorticoids or steroids.

Corticosteroids are used as a treatment for psoriatic arthritis (PsA) to reduce the joint inflammation caused by the disease. Corticosteroids may be taken by mouth or may be injected directly into affected joints, providing temporary relief from joint swelling.

How do corticosteroids work?

Corticosteroids reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids are similar to the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol. Your body naturally produces cortisol in the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids also suppress the immune system. This can help control conditions that cause your immune system to attack its own healthy tissues by mistake.1

Formulations of corticosteroids

Corticosteroids include:2,3

  • Prednisone
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Prednisolone
  • Dexamethasone
  • Hydrocortisone

What are the possible side effects of corticosteroids?

Side effects can vary depending on the specific drug you are taking.

Side effects of corticosteroid injections may include:4

  • Death of nearby bone
  • Joint infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site
  • Temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint
  • Tendon weakening or rupture
  • Thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis)
  • Whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site

Side effects of oral corticosteroids include:4

  • Fluid retention
  • Changes in blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in behavior and mood
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Upset stomach
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

Repeated use of corticosteroid injections may cause deterioration of the cartilage in a joint. Injections are generally not given more often than every 6 weeks and usually not more than 3 or 4 times a year.4

These are not all the possible side effects of corticosteroids. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with corticosteroids.

Things to know about corticosteroids

People who take blood thinners may need to stop using their medicine for several days before a corticosteroid injection to reduce their risk of bleeding or bruising. Talk to your doctor before stopping any medicine.4

Following corticosteroid injections, people are advised to protect the injected area for several days. Avoid strenuous activity, and apply ice as needed to relieve pain. Watch for any signs of infection at the injection site, such as increased pain, redness, or swelling that lasts more than 48 hours.4

People who have taken oral corticosteroids for more than 2 weeks and who stop suddenly may experience withdrawal effects. This includes fatigue, joint pain, muscle stiffness, muscle tenderness, or fever. To avoid these effects, people are usually slowly tapered off corticosteroids.3

Before beginning treatment for PsA, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: July 2021.