Steroids are hormones produced by the adrenal glands which sit just above the kidneys. They are involved in a wide range of physiological functions including stress responses, immune responses, regulation of inflammation, blood electrolyte levels. There are many medical conditions where inflammation is a major component which are treated with steroids eg inflammatory bowel conditions such as colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions (dermatitis) and respiratory conditions such as asthma and other lung diseases.

Steroids suppress inflammation by switching off multiple inflammatory genes after binding to steroid receptors in the cells. Most cells have steroid receptor sites; this is why there are many side effects from steroid use.

There are 2 different types of steroids:

  • Glucocorticoids - Corticosteroids are man-made drugs that closely resemble cortisol, a naturally-occurring hormone.
  • Mineralocorticoids.

They can be given orally, by injection into muscle, intravenously, inhaled by a mist or dry powder or given via a nebuliser.