Corticosteroids are chemicals produced naturally in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates. These are hormones, as well as steroids – meaning that they have a particular chemical structure. While we produce corticosteroids naturally, they are perhaps better known for their medical use, whereby analogues of the substances are created (or more technically ‘synthesized’) in laboratory settings. Corticosteroids are used in a vast range of physiological processes, and by creating these synthetic analogues it is possible for doctors to trigger a range of desirable changes in the body as a result.
Among the roles of corticosteroids are moderating the stress response and the immune response. Produced in the adrenal glands then, these are substances that are created under stress, and they trigger a range of changes in the body such as carbohydrate metabolism, protein catabolism, inflammation, blood electrolyte levels and more.
There are of course various types of corticosteroids that control specific areas of these functions. For instance glucocorticoids include cortisol and these control carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism (meaning that the body is more likely to burn these for fat). These are anti inflammatory and prevent the release of phospholipid, and reducing the action of esoniphil. This then gives them many uses in treating immune reactions in a medical setting.
Mineralocorticoids include aldosterone and are tasked with controlling electrolyte and water levels by causing the kidneys to retain more water.
There are a vast range of different medical uses for steroids, but most people will associate these with their anti-inflammatory action. Topical steroids for instance are used in order to treat swelling on the skin, the eyes and in the mucous membranes and these can be used to treat rashes and allergic reactions among other things.
Another way to treat the mucous membranes meanwhile is with inhaled steroids. These help to prevent swelling in the throat and in the neck and this is highly useful in cases where you might be unable to breath. For instance asthma is often caused by sensitivity in the oesophagus and this causes the throat to swell and prevents patients from being able to breath. A way to manage this is with asthma inhalers which in fact are just inhaled steroids used to prevent swelling. Likewise though inhaled steroids can be used to treat an actual attack, and also to treat those having some kind of allergic reaction.
Corticosteroids also come in oral and systemic forms meaning they can be swallowed, injected or administered intravenously. In many cases injected corticosteroids can be used to treat back pain. This can be helpful when a damaged bone or muscle in the spine is swelling and thus placing pressure on the nerves. By injecting the area with corticosteroids it is possible to prevent the swelling and to provide long term relief.
A range of other corticosteroids are used in many other areas to treat a range of problems. Or instance they can be used in order to treat skin diseases and brain tumors. However in large quantities there can also be undesirable side effects of corticosteroids such as Cushing’s syndrome.
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