Cortisone shots are a type of steroid injection. Cortisone shots can be effective in treating a wide variety of conditions, but they can have adverse effects.

These shots consist of a synthetic version of the cortisone hormone that a person’s adrenal glands produce. Doctors use them to treat a wide variety of conditions, including autoimmune disorders and inflammatory diseases.

However, cortisone shots are not suitable for everyone. They can sometimes cause unwanted adverse effects and may interact with other medications.

In this article, we discuss cortisone shots in more detail, including what they are, how doctors administer them, and their uses. We also cover the side effects and other health risks of cortisone shots.

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Cortisone shots are simply injections of cortisone, which is a kind of corticosteroid.

As one scientific paper explains, corticosteroids are synthetic versions of certain steroid hormones that a person’s adrenal glands naturally produce.

The adrenal glands produce two kinds of steroid hormones: mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids. While mineralocorticoids help regulate the amount of water and electrolytes in a person’s cells, glucocorticoids work differently. These steroid hormones play a role in various bodily functions, including:

  • producing changes in a person’s metabolism
  • suppressing the immune system response
  • fighting inflammation
  • narrowing a person’s blood vessels, which is called vasoconstriction

When scientists manufacture corticosteroids, they can engineer these chemicals to be more like mineralocorticoids or more like glucocorticoids. Cortisone functions as a glucocorticoid.

Unlike anabolic steroids, cortisone and other corticosteroids do not promote muscle growth.

Doctors can administer cortisone injections in one of several ways.

Some of the more common options include:

  • intra-articular: into a joint
  • intramuscular: into a muscle
  • intravenous: into the blood
  • epidural: into the spine

Doctors choose whichever option is most appropriate for the condition that they are treating.

For example, if a doctor wants to use cortisone to reduce inflammation in a person’s knees, an intra-articular shot is appropriate.

However, if the doctor aims to reduce inflammation across a person’s body, they will likely opt for an intravenous injection.

As cortisone acts in a similar way to a glucocorticoid, doctors use cortisone shots for their immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory effects.

Experts note that cortisone shots have proven to be useful for treating a wide range of conditions. These conditions include:

There is no fixed amount of time in which cortisone shots work.

Many take a few days to start working, whereas others can begin to work within hours of the injection.

Even when a cortisone shot begins to work, there may not be any noticeable health effects until a later time.

The effects of cortisone shots can last for more than a month. Indeed, some cortisone shots may last for several months.

How long a cortisone shot lasts depends on the amount that a doctor injects, as well as whether the cortisone interacts with other medications.

For example, scientists know that some antiviral drugs can reduce the effects of certain corticosteroids.

In most cases, doctors do not give cortisone shots to people who have had another cortisone injection within the last 6 weeks. They also tend not to give someone more than three cortisone shots per year in the same part of the body.

A person does not usually have to prepare for a cortisone shot. However, these shots can sometimes interact with other medications. For instance, there is evidence that corticosteroids can increase the effects of anticoagulants. Doctors may, therefore, recommend that an individual reduce their dosage before getting a cortisone shot.

In a similar vein, some doctors have concerns about the interactions between corticosteroids and COVID-19 vaccination.

A 2021 study found no evidence that epidural corticosteroid shots make COVID-19 vaccines less effective or more dangerous. However, the authors of this study acknowledge that this topic requires more research.

Cortisone shots produce their effects in a few different ways, depending on the condition that the doctor is using them to treat.

For instance, MS is a condition in which a person’s immune system starts attacking the outer layer of their neurons. Corticosteroids can improve the outlook of a person with MS by suppressing their immune system.

RA is also an autoimmune disease. It attacks a person’s joints, making them stiff and painful. Corticosteroids can improve a person’s symptoms by reducing the inflammation that this condition causes in their joints.

Although cortisone shots can be immensely helpful, these medications may also lead to serious unwanted health effects.

A recent review article lists the following conditions as potential risks:

Anybody who experiences any of these symptoms after receiving a cortisone injection should immediately seek the advice of a doctor.

Cortisone shots also have some less serious but more common side effects. These include:

  • pain, discomfort, or bruising, especially near the site of the injection
  • loss of fat near the site of the injection
  • changes in skin color near the site of the injection
  • in people with diabetes, blood sugar levels may increase for several days
  • in people with high blood pressure, blood pressure may temporarily increase

As with many powerful medications, cortisone shots carry their own health-related risks.

With appropriate use, however, these corticosteroids can significantly relieve the symptoms of many serious conditions.

As cortisone shots can interact with certain medications, a person should make their doctor aware of any other medications that they are taking before receiving the shot.