Healthcare Insights

10 most common steroid medications by prescription volume

Thanks to high-profile cases of illicit misuse in sports, steroids have become synonymous with cheating. However, steroids are also pharmaceuticals that can be used to treat a variety of common conditions.

What is a steroid?

Steroids are synthetic versions of hormones, a series of chemicals made naturally in the human body that allow distinct organs and systems to “communicate” and regulate certain processes. Steroids are typically designed to act like hormones that reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. Also called corticosteroids, these chemicals are different from anabolic steroids, which are synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone.

What conditions do steroids treat?

A physician may prescribe a steroid to a patient for a number of different conditions, including asthma, hay fever, hives, eczema, COPD, inflamed joints, and lupus. In addition, anabolic steroids may be prescribed to patients who have low testosterone as well as other conditions like certain forms of cancer or AIDS.

Steroids won’t cure an illness, but they’re very good at reducing any resulting inflammation and can ease symptoms such as swelling, pain, and stiffness. Steroids are most commonly taken orally, intravenously, ocularly, or by application to the skin as a cream or gel.

Using Definitive Healthcare’s Atlas Prescription Claims product, we created a list of the 10 most prescribed and dispensed steroids in the U.S. for the calendar year 2022.

Top 10 most commonly prescribed steroid medications in 2022

Rank Drug name% of steroids medications dispensed in U.S.Explore dataset

Fig. 1. Data from the Definitive Healthcare’s Atlas Prescription Claims is sourced from multiple medical claims clearinghouses in the United States and updated monthly. Accessed August 2023.

What was the most prescribed and dispensed steroid medication in 2022?

The most prescribed and dispensed steroid medication last year was prednisone, accounting for 29.7% of all steroid medications dispensed in the U.S. in 2022. Typically taken as an oral tablet, prednisone is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, such as asthma, allergic reactions, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. Like most steroids, its main function is to decrease inflammation and slow down overactive immune systems. Due to its efficacy across so many common conditions, it’s unsurprising that prednisone takes the top spot in our ranking.

Coming in second place for top steroid medications is triamcinolone acetonide, which accounts for 13.5% of steroids dispensed in the U.S. last year. This steroid medication usually comes in the form of a topical ointment and is used to treat skin conditions, including eczema, dermatitis, allergies, and rashes. The main function of triamcinolone acetonide is to reduce the swelling, itching, and redness that come with these types of conditions.

Rounding out the top three is methylprednisolone, which accounted for 13.4% of U.S. steroid prescriptions and distributions last year. Another steroid that is typically taken orally, methylprednisolone is used to treat more serious conditions such as blood disorders, lung diseases, and some forms of cancer. Like prednisone, the main function of this steroid is to slow down the immune system’s response to these various conditions and reduce their subsequent symptoms.

What are some of the side effects associated with steroids?

Steroids offer many benefits to patients suffering from a range of conditions, but they may also produce negative side effects in certain patients. Oftentimes, the risk of experiencing side effects depends on the type of steroid being taken, the dosage, the length of treatment, and the patient’s age. Some of the most common side effects associated with steroids include increased appetite, mood changes, insomnia, and muscle weakness.

These side effects can be very unpleasant. However, if a patient stops taking a steroid without consulting a doctor first, they may experience withdrawal effects. Once a steroid treatment is finished, the associated side effects usually pass shortly after.

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