Corticosteroids are used to treat inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. They can also be used to treat a single inflamed joint.

Types: Corticosteroids can be taken by mouth as tablets or liquid. They can also be given by injection into a joint, muscle or soft tissue.

Effects: These medicines have a strong anti-inflammatory effect and reduce pain and swelling. However they do not cure the disease.

How are they used: Your doctor will prescribe the lowest possible dose for the shortest time, due to the risk of side effects. You may need to restart corticosteroids again during a ‘flare’ (when symptoms worsen for a period of time).

Risks: Corticosteroids can have serious side effects if taken in high doses or for a long time (more than a few weeks). Your doctor will monitor you for side effects while you are taking corticosteroids. Common side effects include weight gain, thinning of the bones (osteoporosis), high blood pressure and increased susceptibility to infection. Corticosteroid injections usually produce fewer side effects than tablets.

Important medicine tips

  • Understand why you are taking the medicine and what the possible side effects are. Ask your pharmacist for the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflet for your medicine. See the Australian Rheumatology Association’s Patient Medicine Information or ask your rheumatologist for a copy.
  • Always read all medicine labels and take your medicines as directed. If you have any questions check with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Keep a personal record of all your medicines with you, including doses and allergies. This can be useful when you are talking to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medicines, including natural medicines, as some medicines cause problems if taken together.
  • Do not share your medicines with friends or relatives – the medicines you are taking may be harmful to them.