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.”


“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. xxx

    With all these serious side effects I think it is time for a Class Action suit against the drug manufacturer

  2. codi d

    I am researching the side affects of this drug since i am on it. I have noticed heart flutters multiple times in 2 days. I wasn’t able to sleep well last night and i have yellow something pouring out of my nose from this stuff. Needless to say i wont be taking this again. I can foresee many other side affects headed my way with prednisone 30 mg just from a sinus infection.

  3. Richard
    Wrightstown Nj

    i was just given three 20mg tablets at the ER and prescribed to take three tablets a day for 4 days…

    after reading the horror story’s is it worth taking it?

  4. lacinda Herrmann

    my son is 2 years old he will be 3 in july, he suffers from asthma. He was diagnosed with type A flu the 12th of January, the doctors did not give him anything to take for it, within 3 days it had turned into acute bronchitis, acute sinusitis. They then give him prednisolone, and an antibiotics, along with his inhaler. He has taken the prednisolone for two days now, let’s just say it has turned him into a completely different child. He gets really agitated, shows a lot of aggression, he got upset and punched our shower door. He is only 2 and shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff. The doctor never warned me of the side effects of prednisolone needless to say he is not taking the medicine anymore I will not give it to him.

  5. J.Clark
    Oklahoma City, OK

    I lost my hearing in one ear, in August of this year. Treated by a hearing specialist with sinus rinses, twice a day and spray, said hearing would come back in 6-8 weeks which it did. I continue with sinus rinse 1 x day. Go in for nose polyp test in two weeks. Continue to hear, but can hear my breathing and inside of ear does not look normal yet (per my primary physician).

    During this time, I have had severe body pains, muscles and joints for the past months. Sometimes, cannot hardly walk as I am so stiff, arms ache badly at night. Mid December tests were taken and primary said it was positive for RA. I made the appointment, but cannot get into specialist until March. Meanwhile, I was prescribed Prednisone 10 Mg. which worked magnificently for me. Pain just eased away, I could walk well, no pain.

    It worked throughout the prescription which was 4 days on 3 days on etc., till wean myself off. I was find for about three days and pain and body stiffness returned with vengeance. Called primary and she prescribed MethyIPrednisolone. It is a 6 day and then down to one tablet (4 mg). It has once again eased my pain. I am on my last day today and praying the pain never returns.

    I have had very positive relief with this drug. The only side-effects was night sweats, sometime 2 x night. This I can deal with. I just wanted to comment that sometimes this drug works…I had heard only negative remarks. J.Clark

  6. grant m.

    Prednisone helped save my sanity through a severe case of Nummular Eczema. The dose was 40mg for 4 days, 30mg for 4 days, 20mg for 4 days, and 10 for 4 days. I was told the dose was tapered for good reason, and not to adjust it on my own without consulting the doctor. Near the end of the 16-day treatment, I experienced some confusion and shakiness, which was a mild trade for the skin-clearing power of prednisone. It works.

    While I’m not a doctor, I find some of the dosages above to be heavy without a declination in amounts prescribed. This could be a cause for heightened severity of side effects…

  7. r griffith

    best dosage to avoid harmful effects

  8. Victoria B
    Lansing, Michigan

    I’m 19 years old and I’ve been on and off prednisone all my life. At the moment I’m on 17.5 mg daily for this month, last month I was on 20mg daily, and the month before 15mg daily. I know the side effects that come with taking prednisone. For my body I get extreme mood swings, depression, irritability, weight gain, moon face, sleeplessness, hypertension. But with my disease I’d rather deal with all those side effects then have to experience horrible pain everyday without taking my steroids. As a person you have to ask yourself does that one benefit outweigh all the side effects? And in my case yes.

  9. Steve

    Well, there are some awful side effects listed here, I feel for each story I read. I myself have found the drug effective for sinus polyps and have used them to prolonged the time in between having them surgically removed.

    My side effects in simple words would be “road rage”. I will go off quite easily. Second my “filter” of what I say goes way down. I say things I wish I could take back.

    I write this to say to some out there that I do see this as the miracle drug for my body, worth those frustrations.

  10. Michele

    I was given Prednisone for my allergies, I am supposed to take 2, 20mg tablets a day. Ever since I started taking them I wake up nervous and shaky. I feel worse than before I took them. I do not want to continue taking them I feel dizzy and drugged.

    • grant m.

      Get your doctor to wean you off them slowly! Don’t stop the medication without a consultation. Your pharmacist should help, if you can’t see your doctor for awhile. Good luck!

  11. Georgina B.

    I have been on prednisone for over 2 months now after being diagnosed with ITP and spending 10 days in hospital.

    I started on 40mg and I have now been tapered down to 10mg. I have never felt so ill in my whole life even worse than I did in hospital when I nearly bled to death. I have headaches, muscle weakness, my bones hurt and I have developed severe anxiety. My anxiety is that bad that I have been advised by my heamotologist to move back to Manchester to live with my parents for a few months and get physiological help.

    This really is the devils drug!!

    • Sgbear98

      I can relate. I had a nasty asthma attack that put me in the hospital for 6 days. They had me on high dosages of prednisone while there and discharged me with 40mg for 2 weeks then down to 20mg for 2 months. I have never felt so disconnected in all my life. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t talk without my voice shaking. I had anxiety so bad I honest thought about walking away from everything. I was yelling at my kids for the oddest and simplest of things, I couldn’t help it. It was so frustrating – It was like there was a person all manic and out of control and I am watching from inside this monster and I couldn’t control it. I was having chest pain and even went to my cardiologist, had a stress test, he probably now thinks I am not just an stressed out nut.

      I am still suppose to be on it, but I couldn’t handle it, not a single day longer. I tapered it off and after three days free of the drug I am starting to feel better – I can think and talk. The downside is my asthma attacks have returned, though not as bad (so far) but right now, I just needed the break. I’d rather risk the asthma attacks than lose my mind.

      I know it is a great drug for what it is meant to treat, but I truly think patients on this drug seriously need to be monitored rigorously for the mental effects. It is a powerful drug both good and bad.

    • Jerry

      Georgina, I was diagnosed with ITP in 2008 and had two others episode in 2012 and 2013. This drug had prevented me from bleeding to death but had destroyed my life. The side effects are tremendous. Besides the cramps, mood swings, irritabilities, sleepless nights and worse are the grandiose episodes that I had suffered. I had lost all my retirements saving due to getting involve in dead-end businesses that I would never get involve when I am out of the effect of this drug. I can right a book about it. Every time I tell my doctor about this he laughs… my family had shared a lot of the pain…

  12. limmer

    8 days after my son was prescribed Prednisone, he tried to walk home from college which was 100 miles away from home. Fortunately, he got back to his dorm, we got there and took him home. The next day the doctor told him to stop taking the drug. We had him talk with a psychologist a week later . The psychologist was a family friend because our son did not want to see anyone else. He had some sleep issues…but was back in summer school at out local college, he was life guarding and doing a little part time job…he never once mentioned suicide. Three months to the day after he tried to walk home from school and when he had told us that he saw things in his dorm room, he committed suicide with a note that said he could not stand to remember it. the doctor never really addressed the psychotic reaction which our son apparently experienced. The doctor never suggested medication post psychotic reaction or even the psychotic reaction itself. I can’t write enough about this tragedy because, of course, we wonder what else we could have done. he had no history of mental illness, but after the incident he was just “edgy” and we could never put our finger on it. I will never get over this. Doctors need to address the side effects of prednisone. Our son was prescribed it because he had asthma and had an upper respiratory infection. It was the first time he had taken it – he was 19…died 2 weeks shy of his 20th birthday. People were so shocked because he had such joie de vivre – not some depressed teen angst prior to this prescribed medicine. my heart is broken.

    • Jane

      I am so sorry to hear about your son. That is absolutely heartbreaking. Was all that because of those 8 days or did he continue taking prednisone for a while longer? I pray that you may heal and have faith that God will make this right one day.

    • Theresa K.
      Madison WI

      I cannot even begin to imagine your pain, I am so so sorry this happened to you, your son and your family. Your story however may be able to shed some light on what my 17 yr old son is experiencing and I’m writing in hopes that you can lend some direction on what to do for my son.

      So here’s what happened: Last Saturday (01/10/15) my 17 yr old son called me saying absolutely crazy, scary, things. I instantly knew something was wrong the second I answer. He started off by saying “mom I don’t know what’s happening but there is something really really wrong with me…” He went on to say how he felt like he was in a dream, that he couldn’t tell what was real from what wasn’t real, that he felt like he’s losing his mind, that he doesn’t feel normal and his mental thinking isn’t right and that he feels like can’t process things correctly, that he’s literally shaking, nothing seems clear.. and the last thing he said was “I just want to end this, I’m not ok”.

      I sat there listening in horror while my, otherwise healthy/normal son, was saying just crazy things. Naturally he was scared out of his mind!! (as I was just listening to him say these things). I started asking him questions..”how long he’s felt this way, when did it start, any changes or medications I don’t know about, …etc”. He lives with his dad and I was not told he had been taking the drug Prednisone (20mg / 2xday) for s sinus infection. Apparently he had been on it for 5-6 days, but had stopped taking it on Friday (which is when the thoughts actually started-but were less severe), he called his doctor to ask if he could stop taking it- and was told that was fine.

      Since the Prednisone meds are the only recent change he’s had, I felt that was the only logical cause for his irrational thoughts and what was contributing to how he was feeling. I decided to do an Internet search on the medication- I am absolutely horrified at what I’ve been reading about Prednisone! And am so angry at his doctor for prescribing it to him. When my teenage son calls me saying he can’t tell the difference from reality and what’s not reality.. that he just wants to end feeling that way.. that’s a problem and I’m about to tear into the doctor who told him it was ok to abruptly stop taking it and who did not educate us on the side effects.

      I’m so angry right now.. I’m scared for my son, and not quite sure even who to direct my frustration and anger at right now. After reading about this drug I’m convinced that he should never have been prescribed it, and ABSOLUTELY should have never been given the ok to stop taking it abruptly, rather instructed to taper. I spoke to him last night, he says he’s still not back to normal, which was clear to me after he started asking me about events from his childhood.. he asked me if there was a time when he died, that he was convinced that he once died but somehow lived through some experience he had. I’m so worried for him, these things he’s saying doesn’t make sense, and to him nothing seems clear, he’s questioning things that may or may not hav happened. I really need some direction.. please, after reading your story I’m convinced that I need to intervene, I’m afraid that he might do something.

      If there is anything you can offer, any insight, I would be so grateful. Your story in itself has been an awakening for me- I want you to know that it has touched me and has most definitely led me to see the severity of what he is feeling and actively seek help. Thank you for reading and listening to my experience.
      Theresa K.

  13. hatepred
    United States

    I had never taken a steroid and developed a sudden breathing issue while visiting Phoenix, AZ, presumably from environmental factors. Prednisone was prescribed by an Urgent Care clinic, 40 mg each morning for five days, then 20 mg each morning for five days.

    I made it through two days of 40 mg Prednisone, my breathing cleared up and I was desperate to stop the pred. I was lucky to get two hours of sleep each night. When something mildly stressful happened, I cried uncontrollably for hours. I felt spacy and racy, sweaty and nervous, like I imagine I would feel if I smoked a bunch of crack.

    The nurse who prescribed it mentioned nothing about side effects so I was surprised this drug completely changed me, and so quickly too.

    My doctor said it was ok to stop, so I did. I spent a day feeling all cracked out, restless and horrible. Then, I finally slept most of a night and started to feel normal again.

    Now I’m wondering what affects those two days of pred had on my body. Is my immune system going to be suppressed for some time after this short burst of pred? How much pred still lingers in my body? How can I flush it out as quickly as possible?

    I will only use pred for life/death situations. This stuff is crazy and the effects on your immune system can last a long time, from what I’ve read.

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