What Do I Need to Know Before Taking Prednisone?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Think of prednisone as a very potent anti-inflammatory. Prednisone is a corticosteroid or “steroid” for short. It is a cheap, commonly used oral medication that works well to decrease inflammation in many ways, including suppressing the movement of white blood cells. Prednisone helps rescue you from a variety of issues ranging from hives or severe poison oak to asthma.

Sounds like a wonder drug, right? Yes . . . but there are some downsides we need to know about.

What are some common reasons people take prednisone?

Acute asthma attacks, exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), gout attacks, hives, severe allergic reactions causing rash, and shingles are common reasons we resort to prednisone.

What are the short term side effects of prednisone?

An upset or irritated stomach or nausea, not being able to sleep, restlessness, and sweating are common complaints with prednisone. Emotional instability which may include euphoria and mood swings are also common. Importantly, in diabetics and those with high blood sugars, prednisone can worsen your blood sugar levels. Prednisone stimulates glucose secretion by the liver and decreases the amount of glucose your body gets rid of. Sugars do return to normal when you stop the prednisone.

How is prednisone best taken?

Take it after meals or with food or milk—prednisone loves to cause upset stomach and gastritis.

What about long term side effects of prednisone?

This is why we don’t love to put people on this medication for extended periods of time. For people on prednisone for longer periods of time you have an increased risk of cataracts and glaucoma. Prednisone may weaken your bones and lead to osteoporosis. And again, for people with high blood sugar and diabetes you will need to watch your blood sugar closely as sugars often increase while on prednisone therapy.

Dr O.

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