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. alexander
    southafrica
    Reply

    Hi, I have had 3 operation in the past 3 years, first removal of my nasal polyps, I could breath anymore through my nose, them I pointed out my lump under the ear, which resulted in parotid gland surgery, removal of most the gland. My hearing on this ear did drastically decrease over the years as well. I noticed my tinnitus/buzzing in the ear becoming unbearable. After seeing my doctor again, who removed the polyps and improved my life tremendously, he suggested a ‘stapedectomy’ due to osclerosis. The op went well, though my tinnitus got more worse, my hearing almost disappeared completely. After seeing my doctor again, he prescribed Prednisone and antibiotics, as he explained that my sinus infection is clogging up my ears and hearing. Only 2 days after taking 8 pills Prednisone daily, I felt that I can hear again on my ‘deaf’ ear, it was like a miracle, the surgery worked. My tinnitus is also a little bit better. Frankly being almost a week on Prednisone now, I don’t feel any side effects just coughing, feeling a bit weak but I sleep well. Well, I just hope my hearing stays the way it is and will improve even more.

  2. ugbjk/.
    nbvl.hjv
    Reply

    I had recent issues involving asthma and I was hospitalized twice. They prescribed me with this drug and now I have be having major anxiety and depression. I am also really paranoid for some reason when I hear noises. This drug is beneficial in some ways and not in other ways. For example for me it is negative all around. It doesn’t help my breathing and it make me 10000000 times more anxious than I usually am.

    Also, I feel like I have to pee every minute and I feel like I’m going to fall asleep. It is also really important to be aware of the symptoms so you know what to expect.

  3. Jill
    Reply

    A little over a month ago I hurt my back. I went into the Doctor and was diagnosed with Sciatica and put on 40mg of Prednisone for 5 days. The day I stopped taking it my skin hurt. It felt like I was either bruised all over or had a sunburn. The next day started with Tachycardia, extreme fatigue and stomach pain.

    My Doctor does not think it’s due to the Prednisone because I was only on it for 5 days. But it seems like a pretty big coincidence that it started right after I came off of it.

    I had an upper GI done which showed severe gastritis caused by the Prednisone. Now I have to have an endoscopy done to check for erosions and to have a biopsy done.

    I was also sent to a Cardiologist who noted I have sinus Tachycardia, but believes it’s a symptom from something else. She stated it could possibly be from the Prednisone and I would just have to wait it out.

  4. Nikki
    Oh.
    Reply

    Well I suffer from multiple autoimmune diseases and haven’t needed to take prednisone recently. But I also had never paid attention to how I was feeling while taking it. My rheumatologist gave me 20mg for 2wks then down to 10mg for 2wks don’t know if I can make it. Day 2 of no sleep getting cranky.

  5. Brea
    Texas
    Reply

    I’ve been on and off prednisone for years because I have an auto-immune disease. I do well on it. Just want to add to everyone who goes on it that it’s VERY important that your dose be gradually decreased. Right now, I’m on 40 mg a day. When blood work shows normal, my dr will start decreasing that amount. I’l’l go to 30 a day for about a week, then 20, etc. Right around 10 mg is tricky time because your body has stopped producing cortisone, and it’s only at 10 mg that it will start again. I’ll stay on 10 for about a week, then 5, and even then, I’ll have to drop to 2.5 a day before stopping. Too fast, and I get nausea, weakness, etc. and can’t function.

  6. val g.
    Eastbourne
    Reply

    Have been on steroids for 3 yrs at varying doses, but started to reduce at around December, but got sick and ended back on 50 mg, loads of anti etc, saw my consultant this week and now I have to go into hospital for minimum of 3 weeks to come of them, having read some of his stuff I don’t feel very happy about the whole situation.

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