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Side Effects of Prednisone

Thursday 16 July 2020
4 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is Prednisone

a. What Is Prednisone Used For?

b. How Does Prednisone Work?

II. Common Prednisone Side Effects

III. Serious Prednisone Side Effects

IV. Side Effects of Extended Use

What is Prednisone

Prednisone is a medication used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Prednisone is a type of corticosteroid that mimics the natural hormone cortisol. The medication works by suppressing the immune system and preventing the release of inflammatory substances in the body.

Prednisone is a systemic medication that circulates through the bloodstream. This allows prednisone to treat conditions and symptoms around the entire body or ‘system.’ [1]

 a. What Is Prednisone Used For?

Prednisone is a very versatile medication and is used to treat a wide range of conditions. Prednisone is an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant drug. It is commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, myositis, and systemic vasculitis. Corticosteroids such as prednisone are the most effective method of treating many chronic inflammatory diseases. [2]

High doses of prednisone can be used to treat autoimmune disease, including myasthenia gravis, Addison’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS). Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can be both inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

Prednisone is also taken for many other conditions, that may have inflammatory or autoimmune aspects. These include breathing disorders, allergies, and skin conditions. [3]

an inflamed ankle

b. How Does Prednisone Work?

Inflammatory conditions are the result of the body’s immune system not functioning correctly. Autoimmune diseases are conditions that also involve the body’s own immune system. These diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages healthy body cells. As mentioned, prednisone is a corticosteroid medication that reduces inflammation and suppresses the immune system. Corticosteroids are very potent anti-inflammatory medications.

Inflammation occurs when chemicals from white blood cells enter other body tissue in order to protect it from foreign substances. Blood flow to the area is increased, causing redness and warmth. Occasionally, fluid may leak into the tissue, causing swelling. [4]

Prednisone works by reducing the amount of inflammatory-causing chemicals that are produced. Low doses of medication may be used to provide relief from pain. In contrast, higher doses can help the body and tissue recover after a flare-up. [1] As well as reducing inflammation, prednisone also lowers the effectiveness of the immune system. 

Common Prednisone Side Effects

Medications are manufactured to treat and prevent different medical conditions. However, almost all medications can cause side effects. The severity, range, and frequency of side effects depend on several factors. Factors include the patient’s general health, age, organ function, and alcohol intake. [5] In particular, older adults may be more sensitive to the side effects of prednisone. [6] Taking higher doses for a long period of time may also increase the risk and severity of side effects.

Common side effects of prednisone include:

  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy or experiencing a spinning sensation
  • An increase in appetite
  • Bloating, gradual weight gain and a change in the shape or location of body fat
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Sleeping problems such as insomnia
  • Skin conditions including acne, dry skin, thinning skin, bruising or skin discoloration
  • Increased sweating [3]

A man sat down on outside steps holding his head

Serious Prednisone Side Effects

There are also more serious side effects to prednisone. These symptoms are less common. However, if you do experience any of the following side effects, then you should call your doctor immediately:

  • Signs of an allergic reaction including breathing problems, hives or swelling in the face, tongue or throat
  • Symptoms of very high blood pressure including severe headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath, uneven heartbeats, seizures, blurred vision, buzzing in the ears, confusion or anxiety
  • Signs of stomach or intestinal bleeding including stomach pain, abdominal pain, vomit that looks like coffee grounds or black or tarry stools
  • Symptoms of infection including fever or a persistent sore throat
  • Changes to your mood or mental state such as depression, agitation, or mood swings
  • Muscle cramps, weakness or pain, or bone pain
  • Vision problems including blurred vision
  • Slow wound healing
  • Easier bruising or bleeding
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Swelling in the hands, ankles or feet or puffy face
  • Seizures
  • Menstrual changes [6] 

Side Effects of Extended Use

As an immunosuppressant medication, prednisone works by reducing the effectiveness of the body’s immune system. This can make patients more likely to become sick or contract an infection. Patients taking prednisone should try, where possible, to avoid people with sickness or infections. If a patient is exposed to serious infections such as measles or chickenpox, then it is important to call a doctor as soon as possible for preventative treatment. [6] Prednisone may also decrease the effectiveness of vaccines and antibiotic medications. [7]

Prednisone may also cause osteoporosis or bone weakness when taken in high doses or for long periods. If prednisone is taken as a long-term medication, then your doctor may also prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements. [7]

An x-ray of a fractured shoulder

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.