Difference Between Cortisone and Cortisol (Hydrocortisone)

Cortisol and Cortisone are both steroids. They share a similar core chemical structure which is common to all the cholesterol-like molecules. They comprise 4 fused Carbon rings and, therefore, have a very rigid structure. The difference between cortisol and cortisone lies in the difference of the functional groups present in the two molecules.


Cortisol is also known as hydrocortisone. It is a steroid hormone which is released by the adrenal cortex. This is a “stress hormone” that gets released in order to show “fight or flight response” at stressful conditions. Cortisol can increase blood sugar by gluconeogenesis. It is classified as a glucocorticoid which can stimulate liver glycogen formation. It also has the ability to suppress the immune system and acts as an anti-inflammatory compound. The systemic name of cortisol is (11β)-11,17,21-trihydroxypregn-4-ene-3,20-dione. The CRH hormone released by hypothalamus triggers secretion of ACTH hormone from the anterior pituitary and then ACTH triggers the release of Cortisol.

Cortisol has the ability to reduce substances that are responsible for inflammatory response. Therefore, it is administrated as a drug for rheumatoid diseases and allergies. Sometimes it is also used to treat skin rashes and eczema. If the cortisol level in the body is constantly high, it can lead to proteolysis and hence muscle wasting. This can also reduce bone formation. Cortisol also has the ability to act as an antidiuretic hormone. When the level of cortisol declines the water excretion too declines.


Cortisone is also another steroidal hormone, a glucocorticoid to be specific which is released by adrenal glands. It also has the ability to act as an anti-inflammatory compound and an antidiuretic hormone. The systematic name of cortisone is 17-hydroxy-11-dehydrocorticosterone. When it comes to glucocorticoid activity, cortisone could be considered as the inactive form of cortisol. Cortisone is activated to become cortisol by the hydrogenation of the ketone group in the 17th Carbon to an aldehyde group.

Cortisone, like cortisol, has the ability to elevate blood pressure in stressful conditions. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory drug and as a short term pain relief especially for joint pains.

What is the difference between Cortisol (hydrocortisone) and Cortisone?

• Cortisol and Cortisone are both steroids.

• Cortisol and cortisone are structurally different. Cortisol has an aldehyde group attached to the 17th carbon of the steroid core Carbon skeleton. Cortisone has a ketone group instead.

• Cortisol is the active form when it comes to glucocorticoid activity. Cortisone is a precursor that could be converted to cortisol upon hydrogenation of the ketone group at 17th position into an aldehyde group.

• Cortisol has a longer ejected half-life of 3 hours whereas cortisone only has ½ hour.