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:

When Prednisone is Helpful

  • 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. Paige Gant

    I have ulcerative colitis. When I am in a flare and bleeding I am prescribed prednisone. I usually start at 40mg and take that for however many weeks (3-4) it takes to get the bleeding under control, then I start to taper. So when I’m on it, I’m on it for a few months in order to taper down. I don’t experience psychotic behavior or feelings. When I first start I will be testy the first week, but I adjust gradually.

    However, I ended up on this page because I googled body pain and prednisone. Occasionally while on it I will get pain under my skin that feels like a giant bruise. It starts at the base of my skull and extends down my neck. As the hours go on it works its way down my back all the way to the top of my buttocks. Later in the day it will start to hurt in the front, coming down from my neck on my chest. My husband can’t touch me. Lying down on the bed hurts. I’ve always known it had something to do with the prednisone but couldn’t figure out why it would come on sometimes and not others. But after reading some other accounts, I think I know. It seems to happen when I don’t take my dose at the same time each day. I take it in the morning and on days that I have forgotten and don’t take it until later in the day, I get this awful pain. It will be almost gone by tomorrow. I think it must be a withdrawal symptom. I really hate taking this drug, but when your intestines are bleeding, there’re aren’t many options. Hope this description of my pain helps somebody else figure out what’s going on with their symptoms!

  2. Maggie

    I went to my doctor and got Prednisone for wheezing and tightness in the the chest and they didn’t let me know of the side effects of this medicine; about the lack of sleep I would get for taking this medicine. This is sure a trip I dont ever want to go on again. I went to E.R. to get help to see if they could help me to reverse the effect so I could go to sleep and they said don’t stop the medicine and just wait it out and hopefully you can sleep.

  3. DB

    I was only taking 10mg a day and by the 4th day I became psychotic. Severe delusions, paranoia, some auditory hallucinations, etc… That was just the mental side effects. The physical ones were profuse sweating, severe bruising and inability to sleep at all. I was started on this horrible medication for Crohn’s disease. I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for treatment. I will never take steroids again, ever!! I think I’d rather die.

  4. Darrell
    Duncan,British Columbia, Canada

    I was given prednisone in the hospital unaware of the outcome.
    I left the hospital approximately three weeks later on home oxygen and what had happened then and since should have you terrified. I had the I.C.U. nurses fearful enough, that if I wasn’t in a straight-jacket they wouldn’t approach me. I then had a 24hr guard for five or six days even though I had a catheter. I was told later that I was suffering withdrawal of alcohol and cigarettes. I was also diabetic now and recieved insulin shots. It was the prednisone.

    The head of the hospital and doctors here absolutely deny the existance of steroid psychosis. It is terrifying enough to have your grip on sanity go off like a nuclear bomb. There are no words that can describe the chaos. Ten years later and Im still messed up. Numerous hospital admittances for respiratory distress and Im still getting prednisone inadvertently and it does it all over again.

    A year ago my family was called because I wasn’t to make it through the night;my son who had flown in asked to see my chart and prednisone was used. From dying in I.C.U. to walking out the following day is a good reason to have no prednisone tattooed on your arm or wherever you get an I.V. plugged into. I believe there are those out there who would let others die than be proven wrong and it could be your butt on the line next time. Stand up and speak up for those who aren’t capable…they’re too messed up now.

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