Glucocorticoids Print Page

What are glucocorticoids?

  • Glucocorticoids are also known as corticosteroids, or just steroids.
  • They are synthetic products which mimic cortisol, the body’s naturally occurring glucocorticoid made in the adrenal cortex.
  • Glucocorticoids should not be confused with the type of performance enhancing steroids some athletes have used.

 What are different types of glucocorticoids?

  • Prednisone is the most common type taken by mouth.  It usually comes in 1mg, 5mg, and 50mg tablets.

 How do glucocorticoids work?

  • Glucocorticoids can suppress and modulate the body’s immune system, making them a powerful option in the treatment for some autoimmune diseases.

 What are some conditions that are treated with glucocorticoids?

  • In some circumstances, oral glucocorticoids may be appropriate for the treatment of inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE, or Lupus).
  • Glucocorticoids are always given early in the treatment for most types of vasculitis and myositis.  They are also the primary treatment for Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR).

 How soon will I feel the effects of glucocorticoids?

  • Oral prednisone can begin to have an effect as early as 30 minutes after administration.

 What are the possible side effects of taking Prednisone (oral glucocorticoids)?

  • Poor sleep
  • Increasing weight & Increasing appetite
  • Mood changes or disrupted thinking
  • Thinning of the skin, Weaker muscles
  • Disruption of the body’s own ability to make cortisol
  • Increased risk of developing stomach ulcers, diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, hypertension and heart disease
  • Increased risk of developing serious infections
  • Increased risk of developing osteoporosis and bone fractures

Is there anything I can do to reduce these side effects?

  • Discuss with your doctor to ensure you are always on the lowest dose possible with shortest duration to effectively and safely treat your condition.  Different conditions require different dose regimens.
  • Take your prednisone in the morning, not the evening.  This is similar to the body’s natural cortisol production and may decrease any negative effects on sleep.
  • While prednisone can cause weight gain, try to control the urge to increase your caloric intake..
  • Take Calcium 500mg twice daily and Vitamin D 1000 units daily for bone protection, in addition to regular physical activity.  Discuss with your doctor what you should do to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Let your doctor know if you are at increased risk for any diseases, particularly diabetes, so you can be monitored closely.
  • Make sure you follow your doctor’s advice on how to safely reduce your prednisone dose.  It can be very dangerous to suddenly stop prednisone.

 What should I do if I miss a dose?  How do I safely stop glucocorticoids?

  • If you miss your dose, you can take it as soon as you remember it. If you forget entirely, do not take an extra dose the next day; just resume your regular dose.
  • Glucocorticoids cannot be stopped suddenly, particularly for those patients who have been taking them for greater than 2 weeks.  This can be very dangerous to your health.
  • Always consult with your physician to determine a safe and effective strategy to stop your steroids.

 For complete information about glucocorticoids, visit and consult your physician.