ELI5. If steroid drugs like Prednisone are essentially immunosuppressants, how do they aid in the treatment of diseases like Pneumonia etc. Don’t they in effect kick the body when it’s already down, making it harder to fight off the infection?

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ELI5. If steroid drugs like Prednisone are essentially immunosuppressants, how do they aid in the treatment of diseases like Pneumonia etc. Don’t they in effect kick the body when it’s already down, making it harder to fight off the infection?

In: Biology

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When the immune system is overactive and activates when it shouldn’t, these offer relief. Yes, you are more vulnerable to infections and virus’s when you take them. It’s a trade off.

Not a doctor. Using drugs like prednisone (corticosteroid), the main effect is AFAIK suppressing inflammation. This is sort of like having a big fire destroying your house and the firemen (the prednisone) goes in and sprays a ton of water quickly (further doing damage) to put out the flames. It is to manage an acute issue – something urgent – rather than a “cure”.

The problem is sometimes the body’s immune response is so strong that the response itself becomes life threatening so it does make sense to “cool it down”. Basically, prednisone is used to buy time to allow the body to fight off the infection.

Not a doctor. Pneumonia (normally is bacterial based) and is treated by antibiotics primarily. Antibiotics help in killing the bacteria and prevent in their multiplying more and more.

Steroids is a supplimentary drug used to either reduce inflammation or quell an upcoming cytokine storm. Cytokine storm is when the antibodies / immune cells are produced in such abundant quantity that the risk of collateral damage becomes very high (them killing healthy cells also along with the infected cells). To reduce this risk – steroids are used to suppress the immune response of the body and prevent collateral damage to the body (and multi organ failure).

Steroids aren’t just antidepressants, they also reduce inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response to a sickness or injury, but sometimes your body creates too much inflammation that it becomes counterproductive or even seriously harmful. For example, if a person has some severe lung disease, the lung inflammation might be so severe that it makes it almost impossible for the person to get enough oxygen. In that case, it’s critical to reduce inflammation so the person can get enough oxygen even if there’s a temporary mild immunosppressant effect.

Prescribing drugs that reduce inflammation can prevent or reduce this overreaction and either prevent further damage or speed up the healing process. Of course, there’s a tradeoff between that and the immunosuppressant effects, so doctors will weigh the benefits vs the drawbacks and adjust the dosage and time on the steroid accordingly.