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
- 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:
Finding your patient information leaflet online
Your patient information leaflet (PIL) is the leaflet that comes in the package of your medicine.
To find your PIL online, visit the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) website
- In the ‘Find a medicine’ search box, enter the brand name of your medicine. A list of matching medicines appears.
- To the right of your medicine, select ‘PIL’. A PDF of the PIL opens in a new window.
You can also:
- Select the brand name of your medicine.
- Scroll down to the Documents section.
- From the Package Leaflet line, select PDF version. A PDF of the PIL opens in a new window.
If your PIL is not on the HPRA website, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) website opens in a new window when you select ‘PIL’.
You can find your PIL on the EMA website.
Finding your PIL on the EMA website
If your PIL is not on the HPRA website, you will be sent to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) website.
To find your PIL on the EMA website:
- In the Medicines search box, enter the brand name of your medicine and the word ‘epar’. For example: ‘Zoely epar’. A list of matching medicines appears.
- Select the ‘Human medicine European public assessment report (EPAR)’ for your medicine
- From the table of contents, select Product information.
- Select the EPAR – Product Information link for your medicine. A PDF opens in a new window. The PIL information is in Annex III of the PDF under ‘labelling and package leaflet’
This content was fact checked by a pharmacist, a GP, the National Medication Safety Programme (Safermeds) and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).