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Steroids (also called corticosteroids) are medicines that reduce redness and swelling (inflammation) and lower the activity of the immune system.

These steroids are different from anabolic steroids.

Anabolic steroids are sometimes prescribed by healthcare professionals. They can also be misused by people to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.

Most steroids are only available on prescription. Some creams and nasal sprays can be bought from pharmacies.

Types of steroids

Steroids come in many different forms.

The main types are:

  • tablets, syrups and liquids - such as prednisolone
  • inhalers and nasal sprays - such as beclometasone and fluticasone
  • injections  - such as methylprednisolone
  • creams, lotions and gels - such as hydrocortisone skin cream

Uses of steroids

Steroids are used to treat conditions such as:

  • asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • hay fever
  • hives and eczema
  • painful joints or muscles
  • inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease
  • lupus
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)

Your GP may also prescribe steroids for unapproved use, such as treating nerve pain, including sciatica. This is known as 'off-label use'.

Side effects of steroids

Steroids can cause unpleasant side effects such as an increased appetite, mood changes and difficulty sleeping.

This is most common with steroid tablets.

Side effects usually pass when you finish the treatment.

Talk to your GP or pharmacist if side effects bother you. Do not stop taking steroids without speaking to your GP or pharmacist unless you experience certain serious side effects.

Read more about side effects in the patient information leaflet with your medicine or in our guides to:

Non-urgent advice: Find your patient information leaflet

Your patient information leaflet is the leaflet that comes with your medicine. You can find a digital version of the leaflet online.

Report side effects

You can report any suspected side effects to the the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA): report an issue -

Fact check

This content was fact checked by a pharmacist, a GP, the National Medication Safety Programme (Safermeds) and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 24 September 2021
Next review due: 24 September 2024