Corticosteroids: Inflammatory Bowel Disease Explained

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term that encompasses a group of disorders that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. This inflammation can lead to a variety of symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue. One of the main treatments for IBD is a class of drugs known as corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids are a type of medication that reduces inflammation in the body. They are often used to treat conditions where the immune system is overactive, such as IBD. This article will delve into the role of corticosteroids in the management of IBD, providing a comprehensive understanding of their function, usage, side effects, and more.

Understanding Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of hormones your body produces naturally in your adrenal glands. They work by decreasing inflammation and reducing the activity of the immune system. Corticosteroids are used to treat a variety of conditions, including asthma, allergies, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and IBD.

Their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties make them particularly effective in managing the symptoms of IBD. They are often used in the short term to induce remission in people with moderate to severe disease. However, due to their potential side effects, they are generally not used for long-term management.

Types of Corticosteroids

There are several types of corticosteroids used in the treatment of IBD. These include prednisone, hydrocortisone, and budesonide. Each of these drugs has a different potency and side effect profile, and the choice of which to use often depends on the severity and location of the disease.

Prednisone is a systemic corticosteroid, meaning it affects the whole body. It is often used for moderate to severe IBD. Hydrocortisone is also a systemic corticosteroid, but it is less potent than prednisone. Budesonide is a topical corticosteroid, meaning it acts locally in the gut and has fewer systemic side effects.

How Corticosteroids Work in IBD

Corticosteroids work in IBD by reducing inflammation in the gut. They do this by suppressing the immune system, which is overactive in people with IBD. This reduces the number of inflammatory cells in the gut, and decreases the production of substances that cause inflammation.

By reducing inflammation, corticosteroids can help to relieve the symptoms of IBD, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. They can also help to heal the damage caused by inflammation in the gut. However, they do not cure IBD, and their effects wear off once the medication is stopped.

Inducing Remission

Corticosteroids are often used to induce remission in people with moderate to severe IBD. This means they are used to reduce symptoms and inflammation to the point where the disease is no longer active. This is usually achieved with a high dose of corticosteroids, which is gradually reduced over time as symptoms improve.

While corticosteroids can be very effective at inducing remission, they are not usually used for long-term management of IBD. This is because they do not prevent relapses of the disease, and their long-term use can lead to serious side effects.

Side Effects of Corticosteroids

While corticosteroids can be very effective at reducing inflammation and relieving symptoms, they can also cause a number of side effects. These can range from mild to severe, and can sometimes be serious enough to outweigh the benefits of the medication.

Common side effects of corticosteroids include weight gain, mood changes, insomnia, and increased susceptibility to infections. They can also cause more serious side effects, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cataracts. These risks are higher with long-term use and high doses.

Managing Side Effects

There are several strategies that can be used to manage the side effects of corticosteroids. These include taking the medication with food to reduce stomach upset, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements to protect against osteoporosis, and monitoring blood pressure and blood sugar levels regularly.

In some cases, it may be necessary to reduce the dose of the corticosteroid or switch to a different medication. This should always be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider, as stopping corticosteroids suddenly can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Alternatives to Corticosteroids

While corticosteroids are often effective at managing the symptoms of IBD, they are not suitable for everyone. Some people may not respond to corticosteroids, or they may experience side effects that outweigh the benefits. In these cases, other treatments may be considered.

These can include other types of medication, such as immunomodulators or biologics, which also work by suppressing the immune system. Surgery may also be an option for some people with IBD, particularly if the disease is severe or not responding to medication.

Immunomodulators and Biologics

Immunomodulators are a type of medication that modulates the immune system, reducing its activity. They are often used in combination with corticosteroids, or as a maintenance therapy to prevent relapses of the disease. Biologics are a newer type of medication that target specific parts of the immune system. They can be very effective, but they also have potential side effects and are usually reserved for people with moderate to severe IBD.

Both immunomodulators and biologics can be effective alternatives to corticosteroids, but they also have potential side effects and risks. The choice of which to use often depends on the severity and location of the disease, as well as the person's overall health and other medications they are taking.


Surgery is another option for people with IBD who do not respond to medication, or who have severe disease. The type of surgery depends on the type and location of the IBD, but it can often involve removing part or all of the colon.

While surgery can often effectively manage the symptoms of IBD, it is not a cure and it comes with its own risks and complications. Therefore, it is usually considered as a last resort, after other treatments have been tried.


Corticosteroids play a crucial role in the management of IBD, providing relief from symptoms and inducing remission in many cases. However, their use is not without risks, and they are generally not suitable for long-term management due to their potential side effects.

Understanding the role of corticosteroids in IBD, as well as their benefits and risks, can help individuals with IBD and their healthcare providers make informed decisions about treatment. As with all medications, it's important to discuss any concerns or questions with a healthcare provider.

Back to blog

Keto Paleo Low FODMAP Cert, Gut & Ozempic Friendly

1 of 12

Keto. Paleo. No Digestive Triggers. Shop Now

No onion, no garlic – no pain. No gluten, no lactose – no bloat. Low FODMAP certified.

Stop worrying about what you can't eat and start enjoying what you can. No bloat, no pain, no problem.

Our gut friendly keto, paleo and low FODMAP certified products are gluten-free, lactose-free, soy free, no additives, preservatives or fillers and all natural for clean nutrition. Try them today and feel the difference!