What is steroid?
Steroid is name of a hormone that comes from Adrenal glands mainly. There are different types of steroids in our body; they serve various types of metabolic function.
Some of the steroids are life-saving, meaning without them we can not survive. Some of them suppress inflammation.
Other steroids come from Testes and Ovaries; they are called sex-steroids. In addition to controlling metabolism, they are important in sexual function.
What are their uses?
These drugs are used for various medical conditions in which the inflammatory response has to be controlled. In diseases like asthma these are given by tablet, injection or through inhaler.
In certain other medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, SLE and other connective tissue disorders these are very helpful.
Some like Gluco-corticoids, minerelocorticoids are life-saving in paeple who are deficient in them. The commonest we use are hydrocortisone and Aldosterone. They are life-saving in situations like anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction).
What are different types of steroids?
There are different types of steroids. They are mainly classified on the basis of their potency.
While hydrocortisone, commonly called as Hisone, is least potent; dexamethasone, commonly known as dexona, is the most potent. However, most commonly used steroid is prednisolone which is intermediate in potency.
Are there any side effects to these drugs?
If one uses these drugs in excess then they create a variety of problems. The most dramatic of all is the Cushing’s syndrome in which a patient manifests with florid signs of steroid excess.
These drugs can cause an increase in blood sugar leading to diabetes, increase BP, weaken the bones (osteoporosis), muscle weakness, ulcer in the tummy, raised pressure in the eyes (glaucoma), increased chance of infections etc.
However, if used judicially then they help in combating many ailments effectively. Also, if a person is taking a steroid drug for a long time then it must be reduced slowly otherwise the patient may develop a crisis which could be life-threatening.
Is there any difference between these steroids and steroids used by sports persons for performance enhancement?
Yes, there is a lot of difference between them. They are called anabolic-androgenic steroids. These are basically male sex-related hormones; anabolic means bodybuilding and androgenic means masculine characteristics. In sports their use is illegal.
They are used in the belief that they increase the muscle strength and hence performance. Although it may be true in the short term they are deleterious to health if used on a long term basis.
What are the problems of its long term use?
In both men and women they can cause liver and kidney cancer, jaundice, increased blood pressure, bad cholesterol, mood swings etc.
In men, testicles may shrink, sperm production and fertility decrease, baldness increases. They are at increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
The women develop excessive facial hair, male pattern baldness, menstrual disturbances, etc. If children abuse these drugs then their overall growth will be stunted.