How Long Do Prednisone Side Effects Last?

They're usually temporary, but some can be permanent

Prednisone side effects are often temporary, but some may be permanent. A steroid, prednisone is used to treat pain and inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), and other autoimmune diseases, like arthritis and lupus.

Prednisone is very effective in controlling acute symptoms, but the list of potential side effects is extensive. Prednisone can cause physical or emotional side effects. Typically, if a healthcare provider prescribes prednisone, it's because the benefits outweigh the risks of the side effects.

Most prednisone side effects go away once the dose is lowered or the drug is stopped altogether. However, some side effects of prednisone, like vision problems and osteoporosis, may be permanent.

This article discusses the potential side effects of prednisone and when you should call your doctor. It also explains what prednisone side effects are temporary and which ones could be permanent.

Prednisone side effects
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Why Is Prednisone Used?

Prednisone is used to treat respiratory illnesses such as upper respiratory tract infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and pulmonary fibrosis.

It is also used to treat inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid diseases, neurological conditions such as myasthenia gravis, muscular dystrophy, and certain diseases of the kidney such as glomerulosclerosis.

In some cases, such as for acute inflammation like an upper respiratory tract infection, the course of prednisone might be short; it's only used for a few days or weeks. However, people with IBD or other inflammatory conditions may find their healthcare providers have prescribed them prednisone for months or even years.

The goal of IBD treatment is typically to wean a patient off the steroids, but sometimes it can be difficult. Some people can taper their drug dosage down to a certain point, but then symptoms return, and they must bump it back up again.

The goal of treatment in IBD is always to induce remission with a maintenance drug that has fewer side effects and discontinue the prednisone.

Types of Prednisone Side Effects

Some of the adverse effects of prednisone can be very upsetting, especially physical ones such as facial "mooning" (the face taking on a moon-like swollen shape), acne, and increased hair growth (hirsutism). Increased appetite, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping may be caused by prednisone and can negatively affect quality of life.

Any time healthcare providers start patients on steroids, the short and long-term adverse effects of prednisone are discussed, especially because of the severity of these effects.

Common Side Effects

Some common side effects of prednisone include:

  • Acne
  • Bulging eyes
  • Changes in personality
  • Changes in the way fat is distributed around the body
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme changes in mood
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Fragile skin
  • Heartburn
  • Headache
  • Inappropriate happiness
  • Increased hair growth
  • Increased sweating
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Red or purple blotches or lines under the skin
  • Slowed healing of cuts and bruises
  • Weak muscles

Tell your doctor if any of these side effects are severe or do not go away.

Serious Side Effects

Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following serious side effects:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Eye pain, redness, or tearing
  • Hives
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Itching
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Muscle twitching or tightening
  • Numbness, burning, or tingling in the face, arms, legs, feet, or hands
  • Rash
  • Seizures
  • Shaking of the hands that you cannot control
  • Shortness of breath, especially during the night
  • Sore throat, fever, chills, cough, or other signs of infection
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, arms, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • Swelling or pain in the stomach
  • Upset stomach
  • Vision problems
  • Vomiting

Permanent Side Effects

As the prednisone dosage is tapered down below 10 mg a day and eventually discontinued, the temporary side effects will lessen and reverse.

It should be noted, however, that some potential adverse effects of prednisone are permanent, and discontinuing the drug will not reverse them. This includes glaucoma, cataracts, osteoporosis (bone weakness), and osteonecrosis (bone death).

Dosage and Side Effects

Once prednisone is discontinued, side effects go away. How long it will take to get the dose low and finally down to nothing depends on the length of time that prednisone was used and the dosage. The longer the prednisone was taken and the higher the dose, the longer it will take to taper down and stop it.

The body produces a substance equivalent to about 5 milligrams (mg) of prednisone. A short course of 10 mg of prednisone a day may not cause side effects. However, either a dosage of 10 to 20 mg a day for a month or more—or a dosage of more than 20 mg a day for any length of time—could cause some adverse effects.

A Word From Verywell

No one wants to be put on prednisone but there's no denying that, for many people, it gets results and calms inflammation quickly. People with IBD who have concerns about side effects should discuss them with a healthcare provider.

There may be ways to avoid certain side effects, such as by taking doses earlier in the day to lessen the effect on sleep. It's also important to discuss how long the prednisone will be needed and what the plan is to stop the prednisone altogether.

Knowing the answers to these questions can help in getting through a course of prednisone without quite so many struggles with side effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do I have side effects after stopping prednisone?

    If you have been taking prednisone long-term or in high doses, you may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Common prednisone withdrawal symptoms include:

    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Headaches
    • Joint pain
    • Muscle pain
    • Nausea or vomiting

    It is important to follow your healthcare provider's instructions for tapering your prednisone dose and do not stop taking it abruptly.

  • Does prednisone have lingering effects?

    It can. While most side effects of prednisone resolve after you stop taking it, some may be permanent. These include vision problems like cataracts and glaucoma, and problems with bone health, including thinning bones (osteoporosis) and bone death.

  • What are the mental-health side effects of prednisone?

    Mental health issues that can be triggered by prednisone include extreme mood changes, anger, depression, inappropriate happiness, insomnia, and personality changes. In rare cases, a person taking prednisone can have extreme reactions to the medication, including losing contact with reality. 

    Call your healthcare provider right away if you begin to experience uncontrollable emotions after taking prednisone.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • MedlinePlus. Prednisone. U.S. National Library of Medicine 1 Sept 2010.
  • UW Medicine. Corticosteroids for Arthritis. University of Washington–Seattle Dec 30 2004.