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Oral and injectable systemic corticosterois are steroid hormones prescribed to decrease inflammation in diseases and conditions such as arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, for example), ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, asthma, bronchitis, some skin rashes, and allergic or inflammatory conditions that involve the nose and eyes. Examples of systemic corticosteroids include hydrocortisone (Cortef), cortisone, prednisone (Prednisone Intensol), prednisolone (Orapred, Prelone), and methylprednisolone (Medrol, Depo-Medrol, Solu-Medrol). Some of the side effects of systemic corticosteroids are swelling of the legs, hypertension, headache, easy bruising, facial hair growth, diabetes, cataracts, and puffiness of the face.

Among the 188 patients with extensive bullous pemphigoid, topical corticosteroids were superior to oral prednisone (P=). The one-year survival rate was 76 percent in the topical-corticosteroid group and 58 percent in the oral-prednisone group. Disease was controlled at three weeks in 92 of the 93 patients in the topical-corticosteroid group (99 percent) and 86 of the 95 patients in the oral-prednisone group (91 percent, P=). Severe complications occurred in 27 of the 93 patients in the topical-corticosteroid group (29 percent) and in 51 of the 95 patients in the oral-prednisone group (54 percent, P=). Among the 153 patients with moderate bullous pemphigoid, there were no significant differences between the topical-corticosteroid group and the oral-prednisone group in terms of overall survival, the rate of control at three weeks, or the incidence of severe complications.

Because of these side effects, doctors frequently choose safer medications, such as the 5-ASA drugs and antibiotics, as initial therapy. But there are a number of ways to reduce the risk of developing side effects. These include rapid but careful tapering off of steroids; alternate-day dosing; rectally applied corticosteroids; and rapidly metabolized corticosteroids such as budesonide (described above). To help prevent osteoporosis, many doctors routinely prescribe calcium supplements as well as multivitamins that contain vitamin D. Another option is the use of bisphosphonates, such as risedronate (Actonel®) and alendronate (Fosamax®). These compounds, which have been shown to help avert bone loss, are effective in treating and preventing steroid-induced osteoporosis.

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