Depression

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.”

–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.

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. DaisyD
    NY
    Reply

    I was prescribed Prednisone to deal with an allergic reaction (hives, all over body itching) I had to Nabumetone, an NSAID for osteoarthritis. It worked for the allergy, but I had extreme heartburn for several days–so much so that I actually lost 4 lbs. It also made me nauseous. My orthopedist wants to prescribe a course of steroids (including Prednisone) to help me with my severe sciatica and lumbar arthritis I’ve had for 7 months. I feel like I am stuck between a rock and a hard place! Has anyone had success with Prednisone for osteoarthritis/sciatica pain?

  2. Melanie
    usa
    Reply

    I was prescribed prednisone for severe contact dermatitis from poison ivy, and I felt like kissing a pharmacist!! It worked so well to stop an out of control immune response that was making my life miserable!! Experienced dizziness and cloudy thinking as a result, considering discontinuing the rest due to upcoming Ochem exam! Rash is getting better and I need to study!!

  3. Jill
    Caribbean
    Reply

    After contracting Chicangunya, with one week of fever and agonizing joint pain, followed by 4 weeks of debilitating, persistent joint pain, making it very painful to walk, stand up, roll over in bed, etc.

    All the literature indicates there is no cure for Chikangunya, only pain relief with aspirin and Ibuprofen. These helped my pain, but gave no improvement to range of movement or severe joint swelling.

    After 5 weeks I went to my Dr. and he prescribed a 15 day course of Prednisone. Within hours of the first tablet, I experienced profound and complete relief from all joint symptoms, feel like a woman reborn.

    Now, reading of possible side effects I am concerned about what will happen after I am off the drug. For now, I am pain free, energetic, feeling great, though suffering insomnia.

  4. Donis M.
    Wildwood, FL
    Reply

    This is my 2nd. Round of this medicine ( first time to repair my hearing that was damaged due to Encephilits in 2002). I am on the 20mg doseage for Tenfinitis on my left elbow. I have 2 more days left & a horrible cough…….

  5. Hank
    Reply

    Have been diagnosed with chronic pericarditis, inflammation of the sack around the heart. Very painful! The only relief is prednisone in a high dose. WORKS UNBELIEVABLE! Within hours full relief. Been on different doses for 8 months. The bad was, once weaned off the drug I would have an attack of pericarditis… I am down to 12mg a day and 800 -1600 mg a day of ibuprofen.

    I have gained about 15 pounds and my wife says I am very irritable when I was on 50 mg a day. I am looking forward to being off the prednisone in the coming months. Without the drug I would have missed much more work and suffered horribly. My wife and I are still together.

  6. T.E. van Heerden
    South Africa
    Reply

    I have shared my thoughts previously. Landed in hospital near death with an abscess. (Was diagnosed with Sjogrens disease.) The best advice I can give is to check if they are giving the correct medication. I was given Panafcort 2 months ago, a generic, and I had really nasty side effects. Much worse than on Prednisone. My hair was falling out excessively, itchiness very bad from head to toe, rapid heartbeat, very depressed, total lack of concentration, mood swings, no concentration and could not work at all and I had excessive muscle pains. I thought I was busy dying until I realized what it was. The Prednisone has side effects for me but not as bad as the Panafcort.

  7. Elena
    San Diego, Ca.
    Reply

    Thank you to the brave people sharing on their use of prednisone 20mg. When I go to the doctor I always obey and buy the prescribed medicine….BUT….first I research the side effects! And you convinced me NOT to take! I will let my body Heal slowly. ( My symptoms, back from traveling were flu like, stomach, throat, general ill feelings, serious, but getting better).

  8. Mack
    Chicago
    Reply

    I am in high school, and I have been put on prednisone more than five times that I can remember. While on prednisone for asthma I could not sleep and I felt very jittery. It also made me very anxious and hyper. I do not recommend prednisone unless you really need it.

  9. Eileen
    Canada
    Reply

    I have PMR (polymyalgia rheumatica)…..a very painful condition. I suffered for a few months before being diagnosed. Had a useless life; couldn’t enjoy my grandchildren or continue any physical activities. I was diagnosed 2 months ago and my doctor prescribed 25 mg. of prednisone a day; taken in the morning only. It was a life saver! I have no more pain, am active. Was warned of all the side effects, but fortunately so far only small weight gain and a puffy face, and a dry mouth and throat (can’t sing anymore). I sleep well at night (because I don’t take it before bed). Maybe I am one of the lucky ones from the comments I have read. But for some conditions, like PMR, Prednisone is a necessity if you want a pain free life. My Dr. has said I would probably be on it for a year maybe longer. PMR could be a part of my life…..it can go into remission but it can also return any time. Thought I would post this as it is kind of positive. Usually see a lot more negative comments posted.

  10. Tracy D.
    United States
    Reply

    I had been prescribed 3 consecutive scripts for prednisone 60 mg with a 9 day taper (40, 20) to stop my sciatica pain til I could have a nerve block, epidural. I have gained 10 pounds in 27 days, was suicidal, depressed beyond belief,.blurry vision, audio and visual hallucinations and basically unable to work the final week.

    I have never had such a terrible month in my life. Yes, the physical pain stopped, but I am just now starting to feel almost human. My doc prescribed xanax, half mg 3 times a day which has helped with the rapid heartbeat and panic attacks. Please speak with your doctor about all these side effects. In a million years I would NEVER take it again!

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