Cortef, also known as hydrocortisone or cortisol, is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that is used in small doses to treat symptoms of low cortisol or adrenal insufficiency. Symptoms of cortisol deficiency can include fatigue, stress, sugar/salt cravings, low blood sugar, allergies, and joint pain. It is important to understand that the small dose prescribed for these symptoms does not have the same side effects as a larger, pharmacologic dose of steroids. Your doctor may recommend temporarily increasing your dose of Cortef if you experience respiratory infections or extreme stress.
It is crucial to differentiate between a physiologic replacement dose of Cortef and a pharmacologic dose of steroids. Cortef is prescribed in physiologic doses for symptoms of cortisol deficiency and does not cause bone loss, weight gain, elevated glucose, sugar cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbances, thinning skin, easy bruising, or suppression of the immune system. Cortef is safer than other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Vioxx®, Celebrex®, and Mobic®, which can cause serious side effects. The recommended dose of Cortef is usually 5-10 mg taken two to three times daily and can be safely taken with other medications. Cortef 5 mg may be taken three times daily with meals, and some people prefer to take it twice daily, 10 mg in the morning and 5-10 mg around 4 pm.