Prednisone (and similar corticosteroids) can be a life saving drug. It saved my sanity when I developed sudden hearing loss in one ear. That was a really scary experience for someone who depends on hearing to be able to do live radio.

The ear, nose and throat specialist diagnosed my deafness as “idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss.” In other words, he didn’t have a clue what caused it. He did prescribe high doses of prednisone and within a few days my hearing returned.

Similar corticosteroids like Prednisone include

  • Cortisone
  • Dexamethasone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Prednisolone

There are many conditions for which such drugs can be extremely valuable, even life saving. Here are just a few:

  • Very serious allergic reactions (bad poison ivy for example)
  • Anaphylactic shock (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Brain tumors
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease)
  • Severe asthma (usually to help control acute flare-ups)
  • Severe nausea of chemotherapy
  • High altitude sickness (when there is brain swelling)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Addison’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Giant cell arteritis

As useful as corticosteroids can be for a wide range of conditions, the drugs can also cause an extraordinary number of serious side effects. Some people have likened this to a deal with the devil. Even short-term use can cause problems.

My personal experience with Prednisone

The week or two that I took prednisone for my hearing loss I couldn’t sleep, became incredibly irritable and hard to live with, and felt as if I had turned into someone I didn’t know or like. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed data from hundreds of thousands of European patients over an 18 year period.

They discovered that people taking corticosteroids were more likely to experience neuropsychiatric symptoms including depression, suicidal thoughts (and actions), delirium, disorientation, confusion, panic and manic episodes.

The authors conclude that: “Glucocorticoids [another term for corticosteroids] increase the risk of suicidal behavior and neuropsychiatric disorders. Educating patients and their families about these adverse events and increasing primary care physicians’ awareness about their occurrence should facilitate early monitoring.”

I can relate. I certainly felt disoriented and out of control on the relatively high dose I was taking. The trouble is that patients and their families are not always warned about such side effects.

Scary Prednisone side effects that have been reported to us

“Years ago I was given prednisone in the emergency room for a severe anaphylactic reaction that affected my ability to breathe and caused massive hives. Although the treatment may have been necessary, I too had a severe psychotic reaction and when I finally went to my own doctor and had blood tests, my blood chemistry was all over the map. I had to continue the tapered dose till I was done but I wish someone had warned me of possible side effects so at least I wouldn’t think I was totally crazy.

“I questioned my ability to drive, slept constantly, and was quite volatile. I had to take a day off from work. Knowledge is power! People should be warned about possible side effects so they have the information should side effects occur.”


“I was on 20mg twice a day of prednisone for a sinus infection. Had I known anything about this horrible drug I would have never taken the meds and let my sinus infection clear up on its own. That would have been better than these side effects.
“I was not told to taper the dose, so I took as prescribed 20mg twice daily for 7 days. The day after stopping my whole body hurt to the touch, as if I was black and blue all over. I was swollen, red and had a lump on my neck, not to mention being very disoriented. I went back to the doctor and he insisted this had nothing to do with the drug.
“I checked myself into the ER where they put an IV drip with benadryl and the like. I was discharged that day. No change. Next day, didn’t hurt to the touch anymore. New side effect – rash from head to toe and severe indigestion. Following day, rash subsiding, indigestion getting better. Still feeling a bit loopy, but I am told by next week I should be back to myself again.
“I am warning everyone i know not to ever take a steroid unless your life is in danger. It is a very scary feeling – all for a sinus infection.”

“I’m having Prednisone side effects. My doctor prescribed this drug last Thursday. She prescribed 20mg twice daily for five days. I was sleepless for three days in row. On day 4 after a short nap I awake feeling so nervous. I am crying, my hands are shaking, and my heart is beating so hard. These are awful feelings.
“My doctor told me I will feel that way for about nine days. She didn’t show any care about me. She also said I can go back to work (and drive a long way) the next day. But the way I was and am feeling I’m not daring to drive even one block.
“I do not understand why she prescribed that medicine, without any warning, for a small allergy I had. I mean the medicine was worse than my illness.”

“My wife had sleepless nights when on prednisone and the doctor said that she might do some odd things that she normally wouldn’t do. He was right. One night she got up and tore down the wall paper in our bathroom :-) We still get a laugh over this one.”
-Bob K.

“I am experiencing high blood pressure, agoraphobia, panic attacks, light headedness, confusion, weakness, intolerance to heat, IBS, shaking, etc. These side effects all started the day I stopped the drug. It has been 7 days with not much improvement. I was hospitalized for 3 days. I pray I do not EVER have to take prednisone again… EVER.
“I am hoping I get past this. My quality of life stinks. I took 30mg 1 day 20mg 2 days and 1 mg 2 days. Absolutely HATE this.”

These are just some of the messages that have been posted to our website. Feel free to add your story or comment below. We find it astonishing that some prescribers do not warn patients about the possibility of psychological side effects brought on by prednisone and friends. Even a short-course of high-dose steroid can precipitate symptoms. And not warning about gradual tapering borders on bad medicine. To protect yourself and your loved ones from such medical mistakes we suggest our latest book, Top Screw-ups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.

We want to emphasize that corticosteroids can be very valuable. Some people must take them for the rest of their lives because of a very serious or life-threatening condition. And NO ONE should ever stop taking a drug like prednisone suddenly. It must be phased off gradually under medical supervision.

Other side effects associated with corticosteroids like Prednisone

  • Fluid retention, edema
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability, nervousness, mood swings, mania, depression, psychosis
  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Hypertension
  • Loss of potassium
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, vertigo
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blood sugar elevation (diabetes)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Swollen face
  • Hair growth (including on the face)
  • Itching, rash, hives
  • Increased susceptibility to infection
  • Weakened bones (osteopenia, osteoporosis)
  • Tendon rupture
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Ulcers

The higher the dose and the longer someone takes a drug like prednisone the more likely there will be side effects. Make sure your physician is monitoring things like potassium, blood sugar, bone density and psychological well being. And never stop a corticosteroid suddenly!

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  1. Mike

    I had to take it for 7 days to get rid of a sinus infection with intense blockage and pressure. It worked wonders and now I can sleep.

  2. Jennifer

    I had a very bad chest infection after a flu virus. My ventolin and seritide weren’t working. I went to an after hours dr. Two weeks ago and he put me on 50mg prednisone and amoxicillin. I stopped the prednisone after two weeks. Was not told to taper it off slowly. Two days after stopping it my left leg was so painful and I found it hard to walk. The third day, my right leg also was painful and I could only walk slowly with my legs feeling they were going to crumble under me.

    I went to emergency and had too be wheeled in. By that time my left arm was beginning to pain. They did blood tests, X-rays, nose swab etc. I was in hospital for a day and they realised the prednisone that I stopped abruptly was the reason. They put me back on it at 25mg for three days and then 10mgs for another three days. Paradox helps the pain and I am walking fine again. I will never take this drug again and I will advise the dr that prescribed needs to talk about the process of going off it slowly. I am a very fit woman but was so scared when my legs just wouldn’t work.

  3. Joanna

    6-29-2015 After starting Prednisone withing the first 24 hours it was doing wonders for my shoulder pain in conjunction with percocet, however the lower back and leg pain that began is unbearable. I can’t sit or sleep. I work at a desk all day and I’m finding myself rocking back and forth just to deal with the pain. I do get up and walk and find minor relief but not enough. I know I can’t just abruptly stop, but good grief I’d rather never have started it. Thank goodness its only a weeks worth then the weening begins. I really wish I would have asked more questions before beginning the prescription. ask ask ask questions.

  4. Kathy
    Lasvegas nevada

    I took a 6 day Pak 4.. Because of severe pain in neck and back. 2 days after I finished that I was only 75 percent better. My pain Dr gave me a steroid injection in my wrist and 3 across my shoulders… I felt so much better but that was 3 weeks ago. I’ve been so depressed, so angry impossible to live with. Losing my temper, missing work because I’m so angry and crying all the time. I’ve gone through this about 4 years ago. But when you’re in so much pain you forget the horrible outcome. I just want it to be over! I’m fighting with my boyfriend my daughter my entire family! I would just rather take a month off of work and rest before I take this road again.. Feeling very discouraged… Please help

    • Deb
      New Zealand

      My 90 year old mum was 4 years ago prescribed 80mg prednisone daily, which was a mistake. Her specialist saw her records and immediately reduced it down. Her doctor then argued that he was right all along (didn’t want some specialist telling him he was wrong) and now her prescriptions for Prednisone are several different strengths, and I’ve no idea WHAT she is taking. She refuses to get a medical blister-pack, (“Four Dollars a Month??” she screeched – “No!”) so in her confusion she could very well be overdosing herself. My mother became a different person, and still being on prednisone is still not back to her old self. She is angry, volatile, abusive, paranoid, blows little things out of all proportion, is demanding, critical and the list just goes on and on. Her immune system is now so compromised she spent 6 weeks in hospital earlier this year with a range of different infections, one after the other, including pneumonia. Now she is out, she wont see anyone because she might catch an infection. So she is isolated now into the bargain.

  5. DAWN

    An update from April 23, 2015……I am finally tapering down the Prednisone dose successfully! Yay! So far, so good. My blood work shows no inflammation now, so we are tapering very slowly, month by month. I can only decrease by 2.5mg per month, or by body reacts. Right now on 17.5mg, so this is going to take some time, but that’s fine as long as I finally get off of it! I must say that because of Prednisone I was put on numerous other meds, (glipizide, because of high blood sugar, zantac to help protect my stomach, HCTZ because I am retaining too much water) I will be glad to get rid of all these once I am off the Prednisone. Other side effects included total craziness and meltdowns at 40mg and a suppressed immune system which is probably how I got a kidney infection and shingles all in the same week 2 months ago. Experiencing hair loss, some skin problems and sweating right now. Prednisone helped my condition, (Temporal Arteritis); without it I could have gone blind or had a stroke, but I wish there had been another drug out there without all these side effects. I don’t know how people take it for years…..of course, I know they have no choice just like I didn’t. The risk of not taking it far outweighed the cure in my case and of numerous others. Just be well informed about what to expect if you are prescribed this drug.

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