GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)– You’re probably familiar with the use of steroids as performance enhancers for athletes. But, did you know, doctors prescribe them too?

As part of our “Ask the Expert” series, in partnership with Bon Secours St. Francis, we spoke with a health professional who shares why steroids are used in modern medicine and when you might need one.

“Steroids are used extensively in all sorts of medicine.”

Dr. Surabhi Gaur, Chief Medical Officer at Bon Secours St. Francis

Dr. Surabhi Gaur, Chief Medical Officer at Bon Secours St. Francis, says steroids are prescribed to treat various medical illnesses.

“So, the short answer is steroids are used to treat inflammation. The longer answer is that inflammation is often present or even a cause of a lot of illnesses– minor illnesses up to major illnesses,” said Dr. Gaur.

There is more than just one type of steroid.

“So, different types of steroids and different types of doses are used for all sorts of illnesses and ailments,” said Dr. Gaur.

If you’re suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, an autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, allergies, or croup– just to name a few– you’d likely be prescribed an oral steroid.

“So, the pill is good in the sense that it’ll go everywhere and it’ll reach parts of your body that you obviously just can’t apply a steroid to directly,” said Dr. Gaur.

But, sometimes a topical steroid would be more effective.

“The advantage of an ointment or cream would be that you apply the medicine only to where you need it. So, a good example is really bad bug bites in the summer. Especially, you know, little kids will get really big welts, and they want to scratch at them. You could apply a steroid, for example, if it was really severe, and it would bring down some of that swelling,” said Dr. Gaur.

Dr. Gaur says steroids don’t typically get rid of whatever is ailing you, but they do ease symptoms.

“They work by tamping down your immune system temporarily, which causes it to be less inflammatory and less aggravating to you. So, it feels good in the short run, but it’s not going to get rid of the root of the problem typically,” said Dr. Gaur.

Steroids can be prescribed short-term -or- long-term. It depends on what’s being treated.

“Some of our patients that have things in the rheumatoid arthritis sort of family, patients that have chronic inflammation conditions, Crohn’s disease, sometimes they will take medicines that are like steroids, and they’ll take them for much longer… anyone with respiratory issues, they would benefit from a short burst, you know, five to 10 days of a steroid,” said Dr. Gaur.

A big pro of steroids– they tend to work quickly.

“Patients get quick relief of symptoms if they take a steroid,” said Dr. Gaur.

Dr. Gaur says there are some risks with prescribed steroids, including trouble sleeping, increased appetite, and weight gain. Some people on high doses may experience irritability.

To submit a health topic for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, click here.