Cortisone vs. Hydrocortisone

What's the Difference?

Cortisone and hydrocortisone are both synthetic forms of the hormone cortisol, which is naturally produced by the adrenal glands. They are commonly used as anti-inflammatory medications to treat various conditions such as allergies, asthma, and skin disorders. The main difference between the two lies in their potency. Cortisone is less potent than hydrocortisone, meaning it has a milder effect and is often used for less severe conditions. Hydrocortisone, on the other hand, is more potent and is typically prescribed for more severe inflammation or when cortisone is not providing sufficient relief. Overall, both cortisone and hydrocortisone are effective in reducing inflammation, but their potency levels determine their appropriate use in different situations.


Chemical NameCortisoneHydrocortisone
Brand NamesVarious brand namesVarious brand names
UsesTreats inflammation and autoimmune conditionsTreats inflammation and autoimmune conditions
AdministrationOral, injection, topicalOral, injection, topical
Half-life8-12 hours8-12 hours
Side EffectsWeight gain, mood changes, increased risk of infectionWeight gain, mood changes, increased risk of infection
InteractionsVarious drug interactionsVarious drug interactions

Further Detail


Cortisone and hydrocortisone are both synthetic forms of the hormone cortisol, which is naturally produced by the adrenal glands. These medications belong to the class of corticosteroids and are widely used in the medical field for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties. While cortisone and hydrocortisone share similarities in their mechanisms of action and therapeutic applications, they also have distinct differences in terms of potency, duration of action, and specific uses.

Mechanism of Action

Both cortisone and hydrocortisone exert their effects by binding to glucocorticoid receptors in the cytoplasm of target cells. This binding leads to the formation of a receptor-hormone complex, which then translocates into the nucleus and modulates gene expression. By doing so, these medications regulate various metabolic processes, suppress inflammation, and inhibit the immune response.

However, hydrocortisone has a higher affinity for glucocorticoid receptors compared to cortisone, making it more potent. This increased potency allows hydrocortisone to produce a stronger anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effect at lower doses.


When administered orally, cortisone undergoes extensive first-pass metabolism in the liver, where it is converted into its active form, hydrocortisone. This conversion limits the systemic availability of cortisone, resulting in a lower bioavailability compared to hydrocortisone. On the other hand, hydrocortisone is available in various formulations, including oral tablets, topical creams, and injectable solutions, allowing for different routes of administration depending on the specific medical condition.

Both cortisone and hydrocortisone have a relatively short duration of action. Cortisone has an elimination half-life of approximately 2 hours, while hydrocortisone has a slightly longer half-life of about 1.5 to 2.5 hours. Due to their short duration of action, these medications are often prescribed in divided doses throughout the day to maintain therapeutic levels in the body.

Therapeutic Applications

Cortisone and hydrocortisone are commonly used in the treatment of various inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, allergic reactions, and skin disorders. They help alleviate symptoms by reducing inflammation, suppressing the immune system, and relieving pain.

Hydrocortisone, being more potent, is often preferred in acute situations where a rapid and robust anti-inflammatory response is required. It is frequently used in the management of severe allergic reactions, adrenal insufficiency, and certain types of shock. Cortisone, on the other hand, may be used in less severe cases or when a milder anti-inflammatory effect is desired.

Side Effects

As with any medication, cortisone and hydrocortisone can cause side effects, especially when used for prolonged periods or at high doses. Common side effects include increased appetite, weight gain, fluid retention, mood changes, and elevated blood pressure. Long-term use of these medications may also lead to more serious complications, such as osteoporosis, muscle weakness, and increased susceptibility to infections.

It is important to note that the risk and severity of side effects can vary depending on the dose, duration of treatment, and individual patient factors. Close monitoring and appropriate dose adjustments are necessary to minimize the occurrence of adverse effects.


In summary, cortisone and hydrocortisone are synthetic corticosteroids that share similarities in their mechanisms of action and therapeutic applications. However, hydrocortisone is more potent, has a higher affinity for glucocorticoid receptors, and is available in various formulations for different routes of administration. Cortisone, on the other hand, undergoes conversion to hydrocortisone in the liver and has a lower bioavailability. Both medications have a short duration of action and are commonly used in the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. However, the choice between cortisone and hydrocortisone depends on the specific medical condition, desired potency, and route of administration. As with any medication, close monitoring and appropriate use are essential to maximize therapeutic benefits while minimizing the risk of side effects.

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