Your goal should be to use prednisone sparingly and get off it as soon as possible. There are many prednisone side effects, and they can be unpleasant.
Prednisone cuts inflammation, quieting the immune system. It is a man-made form of cortisol, a hormone that your adrenal glands produce naturally. It is often referred to as a steroid, short for corticosteroid. However, corticosteroids are not the same as the steroids that we read about athletes using to bulk up.
Prednisone can be vital in an emergency to tame a sudden severe allergic reaction. It is also prescribed for many illnesses: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, lung diseases, skin problems, and inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two auto-immune conditions that inflame the digestive tract.
Prednisone side effects
If you have been prescribed prednisone, your doctor has weighed the drug’s benefit for you against the many prednisone side effects. For example, in a lupus patient with inflamed kidneys, prednisone could help reduce inflammation enough to avoid kidney dialysis. Be sure you understand your doctor’s reasoning and the risks.
Prednisone is taken as a pill unlike other steroids that are inhaled or injected. In the pill form, the steroid affects the entire body rather than just one area.
A few days of 10 mg. of prednisone a day may not trigger unwanted effects. But if you go up to 10 to 20 mg. a day for a month or more — or more than 20 mg. a day — you may begin to see prednisone side effects.
Short-term prednisone side effects include: elevated pressure in your eyes (glaucoma); swelling in your lower legs; high blood pressure; mood and memory problems; insomnia; night-eating and weight gain, with fat accumulating in your abdomen, face, and the back of your neck.
Prednisone can make it harder for your immune system to fight infection. If you do get an infection, the symptoms may be unusual.
Over more time you may run into cataracts, high blood sugar, osteoporosis and fractures, and easily bruised skin. Some people’s faces turn into a moon shape.
Children may grow and develop more slowly if they’re taking prednisone.
If you have IBD, you may be prescribed prednisone for many months. Once you’re taking prednisone regularly, your body may cut back on producing natural cortisol. That means you can’t go off the medication abruptly. You’ll need to slowly taper it down, allowing your body to ramp up its own cortisol production.
How long do prednisone side effects last?
Most prednisone side effects will diminish and disappear as you lower the dose and eventually stop taking the drug. However, cataracts and osteoporosis will need to be treated in other ways. Ideally, you’ll resolve symptoms with another maintenance drug. But for some people with IBD, the symptoms will return so then they may end up increasing their prednisone again.
You might be able to minimize symptoms by taking a pill every other day rather than every day, and taking it earlier to beat insomnia. Ask your doctor for help.
March 31, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN