Steroids are often thought of as the illegal drug that bodybuilders and athletes use to gain muscle. But this is just one form of steroids, known as anabolic steroids. A variety of other steroids are legitimate medications that can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including arthritis, asthma and some forms of cancer. The steroids used for medical purposes are sometimes referred to as corticosteroids, and are similar to hormones the body makes in its adrenal glands.
Legitimate Uses of Steroids
For asthma or other breathing problems like seasonal allergies, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroids. These can be inhaled with a nasal spray, or taken as a pill or shot. Steroids are also sometimes injected to relieve joint pain related to arthritis or other causes. These can be administered to the back, knees, elbows and other parts of the body.
Steroids are also useful for treating skin conditions like eczema. They may be given in a pill form or as a steroid cream that provides more immediate relief of symptoms. Steroids have also been used to treat digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as autoimmune disorders like lupus and multiple sclerosis.
Steroid Risks and Side Effects
Legal steroids that are prescribed by a doctor are generally regarded as safe. But they are serious medications that can cause some side effects. Weakened bones and cataracts are just a few possible side effects of corticosteroids. And steroids can also cause a temporary delay in growth for children. For this reason, steroids are often not prescribed for a long period of time. Anabolic steroids, the kind used for muscle growth, can pose a number of serious health risks to users and should be avoided.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institutes of Health; American Academy of Pediatrics; North American Spine Society; American Academy of Dermatology; Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America