Lessening Prednisone Side Effects

Side Effects Of Prednisone Can Be Controlled With A Few Precautions

Prednisone is a drug that is commonly used to treat many inflammatory conditions. It is often prescribed to treat the two major forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The chief barrier to use of prednisone is its long list of potential side effects, many of which are visible or especially bothersome.

Some of these prednisone effects include: insomnia, mood swings, increased hair growth, facial swelling or "mooning", increased appetite, night sweats, acne, headaches, and weight gain. In more extreme cases, the long-term use of prednisone can lead to steroid dependency, bone density loss, and other permanent adverse effects. With all of these possible side effects, why would patients ever take this drug, and why would doctors prescribe it?

Prednisone Is a Steroid

Prednisone is part of a class of drugs known as corticosteroids, and is similar to cortisol, a type of steroid the body produces in the adrenal gland. It reduces inflammation in the body, which is why it is helpful in treating IBD, a condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. The good news is that prednisone often works quickly to reduce the inflammation and other symptoms of IBD including diarrhea and bleeding.

Discontinuing Prednisone

Care must be taken when lessening the dosage of prednisone—a patient should not stop taking it suddenly. The body stops or decreases its own production of cortisol, and slowly tapering the amount of prednisone taken daily allows the body to begin producing it again on its own. Tapering the dose of prednisone usually means lowering the dose by a certain amount every few days or even every week. The length of time to taper will depend on the starting dosage, and the amount of time the prednisone has been taken. At a higher dosage that has been taken for a long period of time, it may take months to taper down, while a short course (such as a few weeks) can be tapered down quicker.

Prescribing Prednisone In Children

Children taking prednisone are of special concern and require careful consideration. A child's growth rate may be impaired, ultimately resulting in the delay of puberty. Children who are taking prednisone for any length of time should be monitored closely for any signs of long-term side effects such as stunted growth in order to respond quickly.

Reducing Prednisone Side Effects

Prednisone has been proven to be effective in reducing inflammation, and patients who choose to take it should be aware of a few ways to combat the side effects.

  • Bone density loss. Supplementing a healthy diet with calcium will help to keep bones healthy through a course of prednisone. Ask your healthcare providers regarding the type and amount of calcium that's needed every day to combat bone loss.
  • Diet. Reducing salt intake can prevent side effects associated with fluid retention. Watching fat and calorie intake can help to prevent weight gain associated with steroids. Having a consultation with a nutritionist will be helpful in planning a diet to follow while taking prednisone.
  • Dosage. Talking to a gastroenterologist about the best time of day to take prednisone for maximum effectiveness and minimal discomfort could make a big difference. Taking all the doses of prednisone earlier in the day (only on the advice of a physician!) could reduce side effects such as insomnia or night sweats and taking it with meals could prevent stomach upset.
  • Support. Letting family and friends know about the side effects of prednisone can be beneficial to coping with emotional side effects. It may help for people to understand that it's the drug that's causing mood swings or irritability and that getting the disease gets under control and stopping the drug is going to help with these issues.
  • Tapering as soon as possible. As soon as possible, the dosage of prednisone should be lowered slowly until it is discontinued. A slow progression is necessary and the longer the drug has been taken, the slower the taper must be. For short courses of the drug, the taper down is usually done more rapidly. However, the goal should be to get the dose down low enough to where side effects are minimal, as quickly and as safely as possible.

A Note From Verywell

Some patients feel that the negative side effects of prednisone far outweigh the benefits that can be derived. It may quickly stop a flare-up of IBD in its tracks, but at the price of altered physical appearance, mental instability, and other health risks. It's not an easy choice, but every patient with IBD must make the decision to use prednisone based on his or her own needs in conjunction with a gastroenterologist.

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