While many think of the term "steroids" as something used to pump bodybuilders up, the truth is a large portion of the American population takes a form of steroid in an attempt to reduce inflammation. Like all medicines, these steroid forms are not without their side effects, such as hypertension (also known as high blood pressure).
How Do Steroids Work?
For the purposes of this article, a type of steroids known as glucocorticoids will be addressed. These hormones are made by the human body, and enhance metabolic and regulatory functions, making them an important part of the body's processes. If taken in excess, these steroids can raise blood pressure and inhibit bone formation. A study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, showed that when the body produces excess amounts of glucocortoids, obesity, and therefore diabetes and hypertension result. This study has caused physicians to exercise special caution in prescribing glucorticoids.
What Are Steroids Used to Treat?
Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, steroids are most useful in treating inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, Addison's disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
What Are Some Common Forms of Steroids?
Synthetically produced glucocorticoids include forms of prednisone, methylprednisolone, beclomethasone, cortisone and hydrocortisone. These medications can be delivered in pill, shot, topical or drop forms.
Short-Term Steroid Effects
Researchers are still examining the link between steroids and hypertension, although strong evidence is building that those taking steroids are at a heightened risk for cardiac disease. Generally, when a steroid is taken over a short period of time or in small doses, the effects on blood pressure are minimal.
Long-Term Steroid Effects
If steroids are prescribed over a long period of time or are in high doses, high blood pressure can take effect. The best actions taken to minimize these effects are those associated with living a healthy lifestyle: refrain from smoking; eat a balanced diet filled with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and exercise regularly (pending a physician's approval). These lifestyle steps can help to counteract the steroid's effects and may help in reducing the need for steroids.