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Steroids to Treat Arthritis

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Why Are Steroids Injected?

Injecting steroids into one or two areas of inflammation allows doctors to deliver a high dose of the drug directly to the problem area. When doctors give steroids by mouth or IV, they cannot be sure an adequate amount will eventually reach the problem area. In addition, the risk of side effects is much higher with oral or IV steroids.

What Conditions Are Treated With Steroid Injections?

Steroids often are injected directly into joints to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or other inflammatory diseases. They also can be injected into an inflamed bursa or around tendons near most joints in the body.

Some people report relief from osteoarthritis when steroids are injected directly into swollen or painful joints.

What Are the Expected Benefits of Steroid Injections?

Steroid injections into a specific area are generally well tolerated and are less likely than other forms of steroid drugs to produce serious side effects. Also, the injections may help avoid the need for oral steroids or increased doses of oral steroids, which could have greater side effects.

What Role Do Steroid Injections Play In an Overall Treatment Program?

Steroid injections can be added to a treatment program that may already include anti-inflammatory pain medications (NSAIDs), physical therapy, occupational therapy, or supportive devices such as canes and braces. Whether one or more of these treatment methods are used depends on the nature of the problem.

For example, in an otherwise healthy person, tendinitis may be adequately treated with only a steroid injection into the inflamed area. However, in a person with rheumatoid arthritis, injections are generally a small part of a multifaceted treatment approach.

When Should Steroid Injections Not Be Used?

Steroids should not be injected when there is infection in the area to be targeted or even elsewhere in the body because they could inhibit the natural infection-fighting immune response. Also, if a joint is already severely destroyed, injections are not likely to provide any benefit.

If someone has a potential bleeding problem or is taking anticoagulants (often referred to as blood thinners), steroid injections may cause bleeding at the site. For these people, injections are given with caution.

Frequent steroid injections, more often than every three or four months, are not recommended because of an increased risk of weakening tissues in the treated area.

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