Cortisol Hormone: What is Hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone has mineralcorticoid and glucocorticoid effects. The first one alter the balance of liquids and electrolytes, which facilitates the reabsorption of sodium and hydrogen, as well as the excretion of potassium. As a result, it's effective in cases of edema and hypertension.
Cortisol Hormone: What is Hydrocortisone?
Franciele Rohor de Souza

Reviewed and approved by the pharmacist Franciele Rohor de Souza.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 27 November, 2022

Hydrocortisone is the name given to the drug that contains the hormone cortisol. This drug is in the market under the name of hydrocortisone or under different brand names.

It’s available for different routes of administration as needed. There are preparations for oral administration, injection for intravenous application, and in ointment form for the topical route.

Specialists use it to treat various diseases, such as adrenocortical insufficiency, adrenogenital syndrome, hypercalcemia, thyroid inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, in asthma, and COPD. However, we’ll go into this in more detail later.

Hydrocortisone was discovered as early as 1955 and is included in a list created by the WHO (World Health Organization) which indicates the medicines that a health system must have at its disposal.

Main indications of hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone cream.
Hydrocortisone is a corticoid drug for the relief of inflammatory processes. You can find it in tablets, injections, or topical creams.

Hydrocortisone is classified as a corticoid drug, so it can be used in many situations. First of all, hydrocortisone relieves inflammatory processes, so it’s administered as an anti-inflammatory drug in cases where it’s needed.

It also has immunosuppressive effects. Because of this, doctors can use it to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (in addition to its anti-inflammatory effect). In turn, doctors prescribe it to patients with asthma or other lung conditions.

Hydrocortisone may be indicated to treat or prevent allergic reactions and to treat different cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma.

Furthermore, doctors use it as steroid replacement therapy in conditions with adrenal gland failure, as shown by study results. This type of disease develops with a decrease in required steroid production.

Other indications for hydrocortisone are the following:

  • To stimulate the appetite in patients with cancer who present serious problems of this type.
  • The ointment treats allergic skin reactions, as well as relieving symptoms of itching, redness, and swelling.
  • To prevent and treat the nausea and vomiting associated with some anti-cancer therapy, such as chemotherapy.

Mechanism of action: how does hydrocortisone exert its effect on the body?

The effects triggered by hydrocortisone, as well as those of all the endogenous corticosteroids secreted by the adrenal cortex, are due to the enzymatic modifications they produce, not to any specific action of the hormone.

Hydrocortisone has mineralcorticoid and glucocorticoid effects. The first ones alter the balance of liquids and electrolytes, which facilitates the reabsorption of sodium and hydrogen, as well as the excretion of potassium. As a result, it’s effective in edema and hypertension.

As for the glucocorticoid effects, they’re part of other metabolic pathways such as:

On the other hand, hydrocortisone also has anti-inflammatory effects thanks to its ability to inhibit phospholipase A2, which is a molecule that belongs to the family of lipocortins.

These substances modulate the synthesis of inflammatory mediators. Therefore, as they’re inhibited, these molecules can’t be synthesized and the inflammatory problem lessens.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that it also inhibits the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary gland. This effect is important as, if administered at high doses and for a long period of time, the adrenal cortex can atrophy.

Adverse reactions to hydrocortisone

Doctor prescribing hydrocortisone.
Hydrocortisone has contraindications and side effects. Therefore, you should administer it with caution and under the watchful eye of a physician.

Hydrocortisone, like all medications on the market, may trigger a number of side effects. Specialists define adverse reactions as all those expected events that occur in an undesirable and unintended manner with the treatment of a drug. The effects of hydrocortisone are similar to all the ones that contain the hormone cortisol.

It’s important to note that not everyone suffers these reactions or manifest them in the same way. The effects vary from one patient to another. In addition, they’re usually reversible and usually disappear on their own over time. As for the most common ones, that is to say, the ones that present a prevalence greater than 30%, we have:

  • Increased appetite
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Insomnia
  • Liquid retention


Hydrocortisone is the name given to cortisol when given as a medication. Doctors and specialists use it to treat many conditions. In addition, you should always follow your doctor’s recommendations, since misusing it can trigger unwanted health reactions.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ahmed SEAM, Soliman AT, Ramadan MA, Elawwa A et al. Long-term prednisone versus hydrocortisone treatment in children with classic Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) and a brief review of the literature. Acta Biomed. 2019 Sep 6;90(3):360-369.
  • Medciclopedia. Hidrocortisona en Vademecum. Disponible en:
  • Hidrocortisona. Disponible en:
  • Mesa J, García O, Tacoronte J, Pérez N. Estabilidad del acetato de hidrocortisona en formulaciones en forma de crema al 1%. Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Farmacéuticas. 2007;38(4):37-41.
  • Zhao Y, Ding C. Effects of Hydrocortisone on Regulating Inflammation, Hemodynamic Stability, and Preventing Shock in Severe Sepsis Patients. Med Sci Monit. 2018 May 30;24:3612-3619.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.