For those who have ever visited a dermatologist due to a rash, insect bite(s), poison ivy, or other causes of frequent itching, may be familiar with hydrocortisone. As a matter of fact, this treatment is well-known for its benefits for the skin and inflammation relief, however did you know that it has other uses? For those unaware, hydrocortisone is usually prescribed as a topical for skin related issues such as an autoimmune disease called psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and acne. So, if this is a regular skin treatment, why is it also used for other conditions unrelated to the skin such as surgery, illness, pregnancy, and the adrenals?
What are Adrenal Glands?
The adrenals are two small walnut-shaped glands located on top of the kidneys to produce hormones in the body and regulate stress response, metabolism, immunity, and blood pressure. Have you ever watched a documentary on Discovery Channel about an animal’s survival instincts in the animal kingdom? For example, when a rattle snake senses a threat, it triggers its rattler to warn the oncoming predator to back off otherwise it will strike. Another instance is if a pufferfish is attacked or in danger, it will puff up into an inedible balloon-like ball to prevent the attacker from devouring it. In addition to that, they simultaneously release toxins into the mouth of the predator to make them seem foul-tasting and, in turn, kill their attacker. These are all self-defense mechanisms that are built into these living organisms to help them survive. Similarly, humans also have these natural self-defense mechanisms that spawn from the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
When humans are facing a life-threatening, or high stress situation, their brain sends a message to the adrenals to release more cortisol into the system. As a result, this will enhance their stamina, sharpen their thinking abilities, and quicken their reflexes and reaction-time, putting them on high alert. For example, one who may not normally hurt someone while calm may punch someone without thinking while being ambushed. This is the quick work of the adrenal glands releasing a boost of adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, thus increasing one’s heartbeat, pulse, and energy. While this is what it’s used for, it’s common for people to feel “adrenaline rushes” while playing in big sports tournaments, making a speech, or dealing with stressful life situations. If it’s experienced on a consistent basis, this can eventually wear out the adrenal glands and deplete the amount of cortisol released, thus causing adrenal fatigue.
What is Hydrocortisone & How Does it Help the Adrenals?
The Pituitary Foundation describes hydrocortisone as “a steroid hormone (corticosteroid or cortisol) produced by the adrenal gland and plays a complex role in regulating bodily functions for essential survival¹.” It works by calming the body’s immune response, reduces pain and inflammation. Those with adrenal fatigue aren’t producing aldosterone and have a deficiency of cortisol, therefore a dose of hydrocortisone will help replenish the body’s hormone levels and regulate the way someone should handle stressors. So, if this treatment contains cortisol for the endocrine system, why is it widely known as a benefit for the skin? Interestingly, hydrocortisone as a skin treatment is created slightly different compared to that of an adrenal treatment. Both contain a substance that resembles cortisol to fight inflammation, hence why it’s a useful tool to fight skin rashes and prevent acne breakouts.
Other Uses for Hydrocortisone
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved hydrocortisone for various conditions including autoimmune disorders, adrenocortical deficiency, certain cancers, pregnancy, injury healing, and in certain cases, surgery. Those who suffer from these autoimmune conditions may find hydrocortisone oral medications useful during their treatment plan:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Thyroid disease
- Addison’s disease
Additionally, hydrocortisone was approved for treatment of these specific cancers:
Expecting women may be prescribed hydrocortisone if:
- They have pre-existing adrenal insufficiency prior to pregnancy.
- During and/or after a Caesarean Section.
Is It Dangerous?
Like other prescribed medications, too much hydrocortisone can have adverse effects. To avoid overdoses, it’s important that patients consult with their practitioner to discuss their adrenal fatigue. Dosage will depend entirely on symptoms and cortisol level lab results. In turn, a LifeWorks practitioner will adjust the proper dosage to the patient’s needs. While this treatment can be offered as a topical, oral or injection, LifeWorks only prescribes hydrocortisone capsules to patients with proven low cortisol levels. It’s best to only take the medicine as prescribed as dosage may be lowered during the treatment process.
If you or someone that you know are suffering from adrenal fatigue and are interested in hydrocortisone, please call to schedule an appointment with one of our practitioners at 727-466-6789.