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.

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. Here are some scary stories that have been reported to this website:

“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.” AC


 

“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.” AMS


“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.” ELY


“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.” SKF


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.

Here are some other side effects associated with corticosteroids.

  • 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. Jan
    Palm Bay, FL
    Reply

    I have Ulcerative Colitis, which first started about 30 years ago. As I get older, my flare-ups are down to 1 or 2 a year. I take Lialda every day. However, the only medication that halts the flare-up and stops the bleeding has been Prednisone. While I don’t like the side-effects (insomnia, moon-face, weight gain, flatulence), I really don’t like the bleeding and uncontrollable bowel movements that I have with every flare-up of UC! I start out with 20mg twice a day of Prednisone for up to a month, then take about 3 months to wean down to none. I’ve had all of the regular side-effects, and many of the irregular ones, but I’ve learned to cope. I know I really get hungry, so I eat a lot of celery! I limit myself to 3 small meals a day. I take a sleeping pill to combat the insomnia. I’ve been doing this for so many years it’s become routine. Unfortunately, no one has come up with a CURE for UC, so I’m stuck with this routine.

  2. Maria
    AR
    Reply

    On the way to AZ for vacation, I broke out from Poison OAK! The AZ Dr had no clue what I had but I knew because I’ve had it before. He prescribed Prednisone and Hydroxyzine instead of one simple steroid shot!!! I’ve only taken the Prednisone a few days but was told to take 2 tablets twice a day for 5 days. There’s NO way I could have done that!!

    I have gotten very aggravated and mean, have a very dry mouth, roof of mouth feel strange, and loss of appetite. I stopped taking them a few days ago (I have 8 left) and the first day I was so out of it. A lot of confusion and really strange feeling. I do not like it. Will NOT take another one. Dr’s are crazy for prescribing this and not discussing the side effects!!

  3. Beatrice U
    United States
    Reply

    I was given pred 20 mg. I am now in a lot of pain all over, with my joints hurting like crazy. I have aches every where, my fingers and hands neck back legs ankles feet just in pain everywhere wrists. I was given this med for l3 l4 and l5 herniated discs. Helpppp! My mom was taking it for Sjorgens syndrome and she gained 100 pounds, had vision problems and problems walking falling and in a lot of pain everywhere.

  4. Rhadona
    ABQ
    Reply

    2 weeks ago I went to the ER after having a migraine for 3 days straight. After a CT scan I was prescribed 20mg of Prednisone 2 times daily for a nasty sinus infection. I had never taken it before, knew nothing about steroids and was not given ANY possible side effect warnings by the Dr. or the pharmacist.

    I took this for 7 days and upon the 8th day I started believing I was truly going insane. I felt like I was outside of my body. I felt like I was in a balloon attached to my body by a tiny thread and it was a windy day. I felt like I was barely holding on to reality. My feet and hands are numb and tingling. I can feel my heart beat throughout my body and I swear I can hear my hair growing! Then can the tactile hallucinations… I feel like I have no control of my body and found myself having to remind myself to chew and swallow and breath.

    The wind blowing on my skin felt like I was in a stinging sand storm. In fact all of my senses are off, either heightened or dulled. I am a teacher and I could swear my students were even coloring extra loud in class the last 3 days! My vision was blurry with light auras around objects, I thought my fiancé looked like an actual angel last night standing in the doorway with the hall light behind him.

    My face looks very swollen and round and my neck, shoulders and the right side of my face is covered in small itchy bumps that resemble acne. And now out of the clear blue sky I am coughing and feeling very congested in my chest. I was worried to talk to my Dr., for fear of being “locked up.” As I was determined that this must be what it feels like to truly go insane.

    Luckily I have a supportive honey who made me go anyway this afternoon. I now know it’s the Prednisone… and I just need to wait for it to leave my system. It would have been nice to have known about these side effects before hand, at least I wouldn’t have been so frightened.

  5. Teresa
    Bellville South Africa
    Reply

    I have been on Prednisone for nearly a year. I have Sjogrens disease. For the time I have been on this medication I have not been myself. My doctor did not warn me to take Immune supplements and Calcium. With failing doing this I landed up in hospital a couple of months after starting on a very high dosage of 40mg. I had an abscess in my mouth.

    I was told in hospital by another specialist that I should stop this medication after which the dosage was lowered. But I was minutes away from death and 3 days in ICU. I had panic attacks after that and on Anti-depressants now for 3 months. I am not sure if all this is worth it. I have to take all these medications and supplements but my mouth is rotting up. Even the visits to my dentist has not helped. And I had an abscess again after the incident with the ICU. The Sjogrens came to light as of severe swelling of my glands. I am asking myself if this medication is all worth it. My face don’t look nice…. my teeth look like a drug addicts mouth and I have thrush a lot of the time. And I am getting very hot flushes. Please advise.

  6. RNG
    Reply

    I’d like to send my thanks, and gratefulness to those who took time out of their day to share their own personal experiences, so others may be for warned of these clear pros & cons; that it seems most are not disclosed from their said health care professionals until sadly after the fact.
    After having an allergic reaction (that was both painful, and bizarre for lack of a better term) from another medication only a month ago; only having taken the medication for 3, maybe 4 days before the symptoms started. I also had not been given any warning of possible side effects, until I was already experiencing them. I was prescribed PREDNISONE (3 20mg tablets daily, for 3 days) just yesterday. I was restless all night. This morning I felt in sort of a daze, now in the afternoon I feel very moody, snappy.
    I’m aware that it could just be the fact that I haven’t been sleeping very soundly due to coughing my head off thru-out the night. Maybe it’s possible I’m just being a worry wort because of the last bad experience I had only A few weeks ago? In any event, I was hoping to shed some more light on my questions and concerns, so i better understand what I’ve learned thus far.
    1. I’ve read in several statements that this medication should NEVER be abruptly stopped, but rather tapered off. However, the way it has been prescribed to me makes no mention or attempt to do so. Should I be concerned about this?
    2. I am also using an inhaler, which is another type of steroid. Can this increase my risk of suffering one or more of the side effects mentioned? Or even make them worse?
    3. After reading the entries above, and gathering most of those who suffered side effects where at a lower dosage then myself, for example: 2 20mg tablets daily, one I read being prescribed different doses each day (the dose being increased & decreased from one day to the next). But I concluded that at least 2 20mg tablets daily is believed to be high a dose? And so does the level of dosage have an effect on the severity of your symptoms? And should I be concerned that my dose may be too high at 3 20mg tablets a day, & there for putting me at higher risk?
    4. Since I was seen yesterday for cold/flu like symptoms, they’ve only gotten worse. Coughing uncontrollably, wheezing, shortness of breath, congestion. Today I can barely breath, only able to take short shallow breaths and trying to talk, stand or walk makes it worse. I become dizzy and very winded trying to catch my breath. I’m not sure if my symptoms are just peeking and they will start to subside tomorrow, or the medication is having a negative effect and I should go back into my doctor???
    ANY comments/ advice would be gratefully taken and appreciated. Better to be armed with information & knowledge, then to be rendered defenseless because you were only given only part-truths to start with & failed seek out the whole truths (the PROS & the CONS) ;) thank you.

  7. JFKE
    Reply

    Was given mega dose of prednisone to take a day ahead of a CT scan because I reported a reaction years ago to the IV dye used. I’ve been having terrible attacks of night sweats, sleeplessness, anxiety, heart pounding, cold feet, elevated BP and feel like I’m going to explode.
    How can the medical profession do no harm if they don’t inform the patient ahead of time of the possible side effects? And how can my PCP have no clue on what is going on with me when I complain of these symptoms?
    Now how long do I have to wait for these attacks to pass? I’m so lucky I have Xanax on hand to take last night or else I would have erupted at home!

  8. ga
    Reply

    is anyone out there with churg strauss syndrome?

  9. Jay P
    Reply

    My brother has a severe allergic reaction to something and came out with hives and swelling all over his body. He was prescribed 5mg of Prednisolone to take 8tablets for three days by hospital staff. There was no warning on the medication and no follow up or tapering.
    He must have stopped taking the tablets as I found the box in his room with a days dose left in it. My brother dies two weeks after stopping his medication, he stayed out late, didn’t call home, was disorientated, vomiting, faint and he was hit by a train.
    I didn’t realise he was taking such a dangerous drug, we dint realise that he had stopped taking it and didn’t have any guidance on weaning off it or a follow up from the hospital. All this is being looked into now but it’s too late for his family. My brother was not the type of person to not call home or not make it home.
    He was an Accountant, sensible, level headed and easy going. There were no signs of him being depressed or wanting to die. The CCTV footage shows him struggling to walk properly, needing to sit down, holding his stomach. I believe this drug affected my brother. I think it’s dangerous and should be prescribed under supervision and monitored.
    Please use this medication carefully as it effects people to very different degrees x

  10. William
    Reply

    I agree with the side effects above. I get and got of lot of them.
    But… The 32 pages of stuff the pharmacy puts in the bag with the prescription talks about the side effects although not easy to understand. Read it.

  11. Billie Marie glover
    Reply

    Not sure what this means. U pick

  12. barb
    Reply

    Prednisone has majorly screwed my life up! I was having back spasms and trying to get things done for my daughter’s wedding, so I asked the dr for something to help with the pain. She prescribed prednisone. That was about 1 wk before the wedding. Then my legs, ankles and feet swelled up HUGE, where I could hardly get shoes on and my skin was so tight I thought it’d tear. I felt like there was a lump in my throat or something suffocating me and was short of breath. I am type 2 diabetic and it also raised my blood sugars.
    I couldn’t figure out what was going on and couldn’t stand all the swelling. I finally went to the dr (my regular dr) this week and my a-fib had kicked back in. When I really got to thinking, it has been a domino effect. The prednisone raised my sugars, which I have found can cause swelling too, and the raised sugars have a tendency to kick my afib into action. My heart rate was 156! I haven’t been eating much at all to try and keep the sugar levels down. I am a mess and just want this med out of my body!!

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