a man in shadow with 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. Dawn
    Arizona
    Reply

    Diagnosed with Temporal Arteritis in Jan. 2015 and started on 40mg of Prednisone. Slowly began tapering down to 20mg in March, but had a flare up and increased to 25mg. Began a taper again, this time slower, reducing by 2.5mg every 2 weeks. Recently got down to 20mg and all hell broke loose. A kidney infection, shingles and a temporal arteritis flare up, all in the same week. Doctor told me to increase dose to 22.5mg, where I currently am now as I recover from the kidney infection and shingles. The temporal arteritis has calmed down, but I wonder if and when I will be able to get below 22.5mg. So depressing as I want to get off this drug before I have more side effects or illnesses attack my body!

  2. melissa
    Rochester hills mi
    Reply

    Depends on the situation. Lucky that I have good doctor because I been on prednisone past four months but my doctors finally slowly tapering me off. There doing it slowly my each month till gets down to 10 then there taper it off from there. Otherwise glad I’m on it. It caused my rare anemia to go away where I don’t need blood transfusions anymore. I have only one kidney and helped that to get back to normal function where I was able to get off of dialysis. Ya side effects suck. But I’m alive and able to work.

  3. Moni
    Seattle
    Reply

    Went to emergency in anaphylactic shock; I thought I had bronchitis but it all happened horribly over a few mere hours. Doctor gave me drug but I am terrified to take it though I am not getting better…still feel like I have bad bronchitis though I’ m told it is an allergen. Ugh…do I dance with the devil?

    • Mike
      East Greenwich, RI
      Reply

      I underwent 6 rounds of “R Chop” chemotherapy 18 months ago to treat Stage 1 non-Hodgkins large B-Cell lymphoma. The infusions took place on the first Monday of the month throughout the summer of 2013.
      Following the infusions on Monday, I had to take 130 mg of Prednisone (that’s the “P” in R Chop) every morning Tuesday through Friday. That was 6-1/2, 20 mg tablets, daily for 4 days. I did this for 6 months.
      My oncologist told a story about the day she took 80 mg for some allergy & her staff sent her home at 11:00 AM due to her ornery demeanor. So I’ve been looking for some anecdotal or clinical research on the long term effects of prednisone. If anyone can point me in the right direction it would be appreciated. Unfortunately, I stopped taking the drug immediately after my last week of therapy. Needless to say, my personal & professional relationships have been strained as I struggle to understand what has happened to my demeanor. I’ve become someone I don’t recognize, but the cancer is gone. What a price to pay.

  4. Tom
    Grosse Pointe, MI
    Reply

    I’m happy to have found this post. No one told me about withdrawl from Prednisone, I could strangle my Doctor. Everyone talks about their symptoms from having taken the steroid for 10 days or what I consider short-term, I’ve been on it for over three years but discontinued use 2 months ago. I feel my pain is worsening daily instead of fading, I was told to taper and did so over a three week period lessening the dose every couple of days, apparently that was to quick because every muscle & every joint in my body is killing me, from a sitting position I cannot stand up without help. I am now trying to get in touch with my Doctor for advise. But I have found some relief after reading this post, Thank you.

  5. Julie E
    New York
    Reply

    I knew I didn’t trust this drug. Yesterday my dr rx’d a 9 day taper…60, 40,20 for dbl pnuemonia. I’m 51 , have always been in good health. Reading up on the side effects and the stories confirms my suspicions. I, too, was not informed of any of this. I’m going to take ibuprofen instead. It’s a ” nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory” plus a pain relieving fever reducer! Personally, I’m not allergic to it and am familiar with it. I’m sorry everyone’s experienced such horrible side effects, but, your input has been extremely valuable to me. Thank you!

  6. Gail
    Nova Scotia
    Reply

    Being on prednisone for years, it attacked the bones in my mouth. I had two bridges in my upper mouth (had to have them due to a head on collision) and they fell out and the doctor indicated it was a side effect from the prednisone. Does anyone know if there is any financial assistance out there to help with this issue. I can’t afford to replace the bridges myself and feel very vulnerable as the absence of the bridges is so noticable. Thank you for any information you can provide.

  7. bob
    ca.
    Reply

    I developed a rash from trimming a bush. My doctor prescribed prednisone ( 20 mgs a day for 5 days) I’m hearing all these horror stories. Should I go to another Doctor.

  8. Rosemary Peppercorn
    U.S.
    Reply

    At noon, I received prescription from doctor for Prednisone for very bad poison ivy. It is almost 5 am the next day, and I haven’t slept.

  9. Joe
    Bethlehem, GA
    Reply

    I considered myself in excellent health all my life, until about 15 years ago I developed Dyshidrotic Eczema. My “Primary Care” didn’t know what it was. Finally in an effort to ‘clear it up’ he put me on Prednisone. 20mg twice a day, with NO word of warning. When the eczema abated, I quit taking the drug. The eczema flared back up. A call to the doctor refilled the prescription. Cleared the eczema up. Quit taking the drug… Eczema came back. Call to the doctor – prescription refilled. This went on for 5 Months, when a dermatologist did a biopsy and told me what I had !! When I told him of my Prednisone regime, he had a fit and told me all the things my doctor and pharmacist had failed to mention. Among other things, my Adrenal glands had completely shut down. It took another eleven months to completely wheene me off the drug. All I can say is Be Careful !! They call it “Practicing Medicine” for a reason !!

  10. MeLissa
    Olympia, WA
    Reply

    Just found out I have a very rare condition and they are not entirely sure how to treat it, it is incurable, but their first thought is Prednisone. I just feel like I have the flu for no reason, about 2 days twice a month. I am no thinking I might just live with that rather than take prednisone. My doctor told me I could potentially gain a lot of weight in only a month on prednisone. Have you had a lot of weight gain? How easy is it to lose once you are off the prednisone?

    • Melissa
      Atlanta, GA
      Reply

      Hi Melissa,

      My husband has a rare blood disease and has to use prednisone to treat it when it gets out of control. He says the urge to eat is ridiculously strong and it takes a lot of self control but he was able to get through this round of prednisone with only gaining 10lbs. He’s been on it for 5 months now and is currently tapering off. I try to make “clean” food, low in sodium – it takes a lot of planning but it’s better than him gaining weight and feeling bad because of that on top of all of the other mental things that go on with this drug. Everyone is different, but just thought I’d let you know it is possible to not gain – it’s just A LOT of self-control. It’s not fun for him or for me when he is on it – but it saves his life. If his condition was not life threatening I know he would not take this medication.

  11. Diana
    Edmonton
    Reply

    I was diagnosed with sarcodoisis on my lung and now I must take 6 prednizones every day for 1 month then 5 prednizones for next month then 4 prednizone for last month , My Dr. says we have to be very aggressive with this disease I have noticed I don’t have to much patience with people to which I am very quiet person usually , I’m wondering if anyone knows how I can deal with this … I know I pray for patience a lot lol

  12. Robert
    Reply

    Since age 15 I have been prescribed prednisone and antibiotics on average about 5 times a year for asthma till about age 33. I just kept getting bronchitis or pneumonia. At age 27 I had meningitis strep throat & pneumonia back to back to back. I lost about 40 pounds in three weeks felt totally defeated. Started looking into these drugs and found they cause weekend immune system.

    I started take care of my own health. Feel much better still have asthma rarely have to take any meds. But now at age 47 started having swelling issues I believe I have acquired angioedema and believe its a side effect of prolonged use of antibiotics and prednisone all those years. Trying to strengthen my immune system.

    The medical industry only seems to know surgery or drugs to treat symptoms with no cures $$$$$$ money to be made.

  13. Laura
    Albuquerque,NM
    Reply

    I’ve been on prednisone for about 2 wks now. Was on 125mg in my neb treatments, then on 20mg for 5 days, then 10mg for 5 days & now 5mg. How long does it take for withdrawal symptoms to disappear & when will my adrenal glands return to normal after I stop taking drug.

    • Joe
      Bethlehem, GA
      Reply

      It’s a slow process, Laura. But it sounds like you’re being monitored and properly tapered off. I was on 20mg twice a day with no guidance for five months before I even heard a word or knew what was happening to me. It took them another 11 months to get me completely off the medication and my adrenal glands functioning on their own again.

  14. Debra
    United States
    Reply

    I suffer from a rare autoimmune disorder called Behcets Disease that causes vasculitis. As a result, I am often given a prednisone taper to combat flares. I usually wait until the flare is unbearable before asking for it because I hate the side effects so much.

    Even without taking steroids, I have a lot of edema and the prednisone just makes it worse. I get a headache the first few days I start on it and can’t sleep. I started a 7 day taper yesterday that started at 60mg for the first 2 days, 40mg for 2 days and then 20mg for 3 days. I’ve had a massive headache since yesterday afternoon and didn’t sleep for squat last night. Honestly, I don’t know which is worse, the inflammation or the side effects of the prednisone!

    • Debra
      Chewelah, WA
      Reply

      Another side effect I’ve noticed, especially recently, is heat intolerance. My disease has progressed to where I must take a high dose (20mg) of prednisone daily. I’ve always been sensitive to heat but now it’s 100x worse. I get overheated just walking across the hall to the bathroom! If my bedroom is above 64F and I don’t have my fan blowing on me at all times, I’m in trouble! I had to buy a personal fan that that hangs around my neck and blows air up at my face for when I must be out of the hose.

  15. VSH
    Evans Georgia
    Reply

    I have always been very lucky with my health. NEVER sick much. I got the Flu in January 2015. I do not have insurance so I just figured I’d wait it out. It is now 04/08/2015 and i have been to the ER four times. I now have severe chronic bronchitis. I have to use an inhaler and do breathing treatments. It has scared me to death. Last ER visit I was prescribed prednisone 40mg for 7 days and a Z pac. After only one day my feet and ankles are so swollen the skin looks like it may split. My face is swollen and I’m dizzy. Normal conversation is difficult. I can’t concentrate.

    Finding this website and hearing the stories of others has helped me realize just how serious this is and just how much I was not told. Thank you for simple information I needed to know.

    • Joe
      Bethlehem, GA
      Reply

      Prednisone is a wonder drug for sure. But many of our prescribers know little more about it than we (patients) do… Do not let a question go unasked – or answered !! Good luck with your recovery.

  16. Joy
    Houston,TX
    Reply

    Mmmmmm…Glad I found this site. Have pneumonia. Prednisone definitely helped my breathing and severe cough but the shaking, headache and insomnia aren’t helping me get back to work. Doctors should definitely have warned us. Made it to work 4 hours today but I am so wired my co-workers wanted to know what was wrong with me. Very embarrassing in front of my staff. One girl even asked me if I was in steroids, so guess these are typical side effects. Going back to Dr tomorrow, I have to get back to that high pressure job. Won’t make it like this!! Ugh… Good luck all!

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