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Steroid Use for Health Conditions

As a nurse, you are the healthcare professional who interacts the most with patients and their families. While physicians and advance practice nurses may create the treatment plan, it is the nurse’s responsibility to follow and ensure its proper implementation. To make sure you perform your duty well, understanding various drugs and treatment methods you will use to help your patients is crucial.

As such, understanding steroids and their use is crucial for nurses to provide the best care for their patients. Often prescribed for various conditions, steroids can have significant effects on the body. While some are positive, steroids can also have negative effects. By learning about steroids, their functions, and potential side effects, you can be better prepared to treat your patients and monitor their health.

In this Fast CE For Less guide, we will cover some of the most important aspects of steroid use, including the various types of steroids, medical conditions associated with their use, and their physiologic effects associated with short and long-term use.

What are Steroids?

Steroids are synthetic substances similar to the hormone cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. They reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. Various types of steroids are commonly known by names such as prednisone, hydrocortisone, and dexamethasone.

Steroids are used in medicine to treat a range of conditions. The active ingredients in steroids help manage symptoms by mimicking the effects of natural hormones in the body, providing relief from inflammation and other symptoms. 

What are Steroids Used for?

Steroids work by mimicking the effects of hormones that the body naturally produces. The primary hormone they resemble is cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation and regulating the immune system. When synthetic steroids are introduced into the body, they help decrease inflammation by preventing white blood cells from traveling to the site of inflammation. This action helps reduce swelling, redness, and pain.

Moreover, steroids suppress the immune system’s activity, making them useful in treating autoimmune diseases in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. By reducing the immune system’s activity, steroids help prevent further tissue damage.

In addition to their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive functions, steroids can influence various bodily processes. They help regulate metabolism, which affects how the body uses fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. This can be beneficial in conditions where metabolism needs to be controlled.

Understanding how steroids function helps nurses to provide appropriate education to patients on their wide range of applications and the importance of taking steroids correctly. It also aids in recognizing potential side effects. This knowledge is vital for nurses to provide informed care and support to their patients.

What Medical Conditions are Treated Using Steroids

Steroids are used to treat various medical conditions due to their powerful anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressing properties. Here are some common conditions where steroids are often prescribed:

  • Asthma: Steroids help reduce inflammation in the airways, making breathing easier for patients.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: These medications reduce joint inflammation and pain, improving mobility and quality of life.
  • Lupus: Steroids help control the immune system and prevent it from attacking the body’s tissues.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are managed by reducing inflammation in the digestive tract.
  • Allergic reactions: Steroids can treat severe allergies by reducing swelling and other allergic symptoms.
  • Skin conditions: Eczema and psoriasis often require topical steroids to reduce itching, redness, and inflammation.

For nurses, understanding these conditions and how steroids work can help monitor patient progress and manage treatment plans effectively. It will also help you educate patients about the importance of sticking to their prescribed steroid regimen.

What are the Types of Steroids and their Uses?

Steroids come in different forms, each designed for specific uses. Understanding these types helps nurses guide patients on proper usage and manage their treatment effectively.

Topical Steroid Creams

Steroid creams are commonly used for skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. Topical steroids reduce inflammation and itching when applied directly to the affected area. The creams are usually prescribed for short-term use to avoid skin thinning and other side effects. Patients should be instructed to apply a thin layer of cream as directed by their healthcare provider and to avoid using it on broken skin.

Steroid Injections

Steroid injections are often used for joint pain and inflammatory conditions like arthritis. These injections deliver the medication directly into the affected area, providing quick relief from pain and inflammation. Injections are typically administered by healthcare professionals in a clinical setting. The frequency of injections depends on the patient’s condition and response to treatment. Patients should be monitored for possible side effects, such as pain at the injection site or infection.

Nasal Sprays

Steroid nasal sprays are used to treat allergic rhinitis and nasal polyps. They help reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, relieving symptoms like congestion, sneezing, and runny nose. Patients should be taught how to use the nasal spray correctly to deliver the medication effectively. This includes shaking the bottle, tilting the head slightly forward, and spraying into each nostril while breathing gently.

Orally Consumed Steroids

Oral steroids, such as prednisone, are used for a variety of conditions, including severe allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. These steroids are taken in pill form and are absorbed into the bloodstream, affecting the entire body. The dosage and duration of treatment vary depending on the condition being treated. Long-term use of oral steroids can lead to significant side effects, so nurses must educate patients on the importance of following their prescribed regimen and attending regular follow-up appointments.

Steroid Inhalers

Steroid inhalers are commonly used for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They deliver the medication directly to the lungs, reducing inflammation and opening the airways. Inhalers come in different forms, including metered-dose inhalers and dry powder inhalers. Patients should be instructed on the proper technique for using their inhalers to ensure they receive the correct dose. This includes shaking the inhaler, exhaling fully, and inhaling deeply while pressing down on the inhaler.

Steroids in Bodybuilding

Steroids are sometimes used in bodybuilding to enhance muscle growth and improve athletic performance. However, this non-medical use poses significant health risks. The risks include liver damage, heart problems, and hormonal imbalances. Using steroids without a prescription is illegal and can lead to serious health consequences. Nurses should be aware of these risks and educate patients, particularly young adults, about the dangers of using steroids for bodybuilding. Promoting safe and healthy alternatives for muscle building and performance enhancement is crucial in-patient education.

 Side Effects of Steroids

Short-Term Side Effects

Short-term use of steroids can lead to several side effects. These include weight gain due to increased appetite, mood swings, and elevated blood pressure. Patients may also experience insomnia or increased blood sugar levels.

Nurses should monitor these side effects and provide guidance on managing them, such as maintaining a healthy diet and monitoring blood pressure regularly.

Long-Term Side Effects

Long-term use of steroids can result in more severe side effects. These include osteoporosis, which weakens bones and makes them more prone to fractures. Patients may also develop diabetes or experience a higher risk of infections due to the immune-suppressing effects of steroids.

Additionally, prolonged steroid use can lead to Cushing’s syndrome, characterized by a round face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning skin. Nurses should educate patients on the importance of regular check-ups, bone density tests, and strategies to mitigate these risks, such as calcium and vitamin D supplementation and engaging in weight-bearing exercises.

Understanding the potential side effects enables nurses to provide better patient care and advice, ensuring safe and effective steroid use.

Steroids play a vital role in treating various medical conditions, but their use requires careful management. Nurses must understand the different types, functions, and potential side effects of steroids to provide effective patient care and education.

By staying informed you can help ensure that steroid treatments are used safely and effectively, improving patient outcomes and well-being. Continued education and awareness are key to navigating the complexities of steroid use in medical practice.

If you have not completed your nursing continuing education requirements to renew your nursing license and want to learn more about providing care for your patients, online nursing CEUs offered by Fast CE For Less can help.

To access flexible and affordable nursing continuing education courses and state bundles, visit www.fastceforless.com.

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