Are Steroids Hormones?   

Are Steroids Hormones?

Medicine pills in packs and syringes.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Jae Hyun Shim, M.D.

We often hear the term “steroids” in negative association with athletes regarding muscle mass growth for increased athletic performance. But steroids are legal and medically beneficial for a variety of medical conditions. 

But what exactly are they? Are steroids hormones? How do they help, and can they potentially be harmful? Our expert, family medicine specialist, Jae Hyun Shim, M.D. weighs in.

What are Steroids?

Hormones are chemicals secreted in the body that help maintain balance and manage many of the body’s natural functions.

Steroids are often known as a man-made form of hormones. 

“There are two broad categories of steroids: corticosteroids, the most commonly prescribed steroid, and anabolic steroids,” Dr. Shim says. 

  • Corticosteroids are manmade drugs that closely resemble a hormone produced by the adrenal glands to help reduce stress as the body fights illness. They can be administered in a wide range of ways, including tablets, inhalers, injections, even creams, ointments or lotions.
  • Anabolic steroids are prescribed drugs that mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone and are often misused to increase muscle mass and enhance athletic abilities.

What Do Corticosteroids Treat?

“Corticosteroids are given when the body’s natural systems are not working properly,” says Dr. Shim. “At times, our bodies allow or even contribute to tissue damage. Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation by quieting the immune system’s response. They have long been used to treat various acute and chronic medical conditions.”

In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, corticosteroids were widely used for patients with COVID who had respiratory distress and low oxygen content in the blood. 

Corticosteroids can be prescribed for:

  • Asthma
  • Allergic reactions
  • Eczema
  • COPD
  • Arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Gout
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis

Corticosteroids can be used in a short term or long term – whether or not the medication needs to be tapered off will depend on the dose of the medication, the condition of the illness and patient’s symptoms.

What Do Anabolic Steroids Treat?

Anabolic steroids may be prescribed to treat: 

  • Endometriosis
  • Delayed puberty
  • Muscle loss from cancer or AIDS 

Risks and Side Effects of Steroids

As with any medication, steroids do have side effects. These vary depending on dose, type of steroid and length of treatment. If steroid use is brief, it’s possible to experience no side effects at all.

Common side effects include:

  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Water retention
  • Bone loss
  • Lower resistance to infection
  • Increased growth in body hair
  • Mood changes
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nervousness/restlessness

Anabolic steroids are more problematic when misused to increase athletic performance. “When anabolic steroids are taken regularly, they can lead to physical and psychological damage that can be long-lasting,” says Dr. Shim.

In addition, anabolic steroids are addictive. So despite unpleasant side effects, your body can crave more, and coming off them can result in withdrawal symptoms. 

It’s important not to cut back on steroid use “cold turkey” or all at once—or even try to cut back on dose on your own. Severe withdrawal symptoms can include serious psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and mania. “Your doctor will help you manage any symptoms associated with withdrawal and taper your dose as needed,” says Dr. Shim.

“Steroids can be beneficial as long as they are used appropriately,” says Dr. Shim. “But they need to be used with caution.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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