Why You Should Think Twice Before Taking Cortisone

What if there was one magical shot that could treat pain, arthritis, and inflammation? And what if, for those who have a needle phobia, that shot could instead be made into convenient pills and creams? Well, that's sort of the case with cortisone.

According to Mayo Clinic, cortisone injected into the body via a shot targets localized pain, inflammation, and arthritis. When taken orally, WebMD explains that it can be used to treat allergic reactions, arthritis, skin and eye conditions, breathing problems, immune disorders, and even cancer. In cream form, cortisone can be applied topically to relieve a number of skin issues from poison ivy rashes to eczema (via WebMD).

With so many uses, you might have cortisone stashed in your medicine cabinet already, or you may have received a cortisone shot from a doctor in the past. However, while this medication offers several health benefits, those benefits can come with some serious drawbacks too.

Cortisone use can pose serious health risks

Cortisone is a type of corticosteroid, steroids that, as GoodRx explains, act like cortisol in the body. These steroids come with several potential long-term effects including weight gain, high blood pressure, and behavioral changes. There are also specific long-term risks depending on how cortisone is administered.

Cortisone shots, especially when used repeatedly, can damage body tissues and rupture tendons, says Verywell Health. The benefits of these shots are only temporary, so if pain or arthritis symptoms continue, most people will have to find alternatives for continued treatment.

Cortisone tablets, unlike shots, travel through the body, which may make them more likely to cause side effects that impact the entire body. In particular, cortisone is known to diminish immunity, making it easier to get infections or illnesses (per Drugs.com).

Even topical solutions rubbed on the skin can be risky. The National Eczema Association notes that corticosteroids like cortisone can cause skin thinning, permanent stretch marks, acne, and even glaucoma and cataracts when used near the eyes.

Here's how to use cortisone safely

Cortisone is useful in treating several conditions, but it must be taken with precaution. To use cortisone without serious side effects, the key is to avoid using it for a long period of time. For cortisone injections, Mayo Clinic suggests limiting cortisone shots to three or four times a year, spaced out by at least six weeks each time. For oral tablets, three weeks maximum is considered safe, according to NHS Inform. Topical cortisone is best limited to only one week of treatment (per Patient).

Be aware of adverse reactions including skin irritation, pain, swelling, mood changes, fatigue, changes in appearance, and high blood sugar (via Mayo Clinic). New or unusual side effects should be discussed with a doctor immediately.

And when possible, ask your doctor for alternatives to cortisone or for lower dosages to minimize the risks. Your body and health deserve it.