Medrol (Methylprednisolone) Side Effects

Medrol (methylprednisolone) is a corticosteroid that's used to treat and relieve inflammation caused by conditions like arthritis as well as blood and eye disorders, among others. Methylprednisolone is similar to a natural hormone produced by your adrenal glands, and can help replace this chemical when your body does not make enough of it.

While a Medrol dose pack usually comes in tablets taken orally, the drug can also be administered through an injectable solution. Methylprednisolone may cause an upset stomach, so it's recommended that this medication be taken with food or milk. Dosing schedules will depend on what your doctor recommends. Tablets can range from 4 mg to 48 mg depending on what specific condition is being treated. It can be prescribed for both daily and alternate-day doses.

Side effects for Medrol vary depending on what dosage you receive and how frequently you take it. While they can be mild, especially when receiving the drug in short courses, Medrol symptoms can be more severe for those who take a higher dosage or are on a longer duration of treatment with the medication.

female doctor talking to a patient

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Common Side Effects

Any side effects from Medrol depend on the dose and how the drug is administered. Generally, short courses of treatment result in either no or mild side effects.

The most common Medrol side effects include:

Some of these more common, less serious side effects may go away over the course of treatment as your body becomes more accustomed to Medrol. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe ways to manage, prevent, and reduce these symptoms.

Do not stop taking methylprednisolone without talking to your doctor. Stopping the drug abruptly can cause loss of appetite, upset stomach, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, headache, fever, joint and muscle pain, peeling skin, and weight loss. 

Serious Side Effects

Medrol can have a range of more serious side effects, causing anything from gastrointestinal problems to neurological issues to serious skin conditions.

Some serious side effects to look out for while on Medrol include:

  • Fluid and electrolyte problems: This could involve sodium retention, hypertension, congestive heart failure (CHF), and potassium loss
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms: Muscle weakness, loss of muscle mass, osteoporosis, and tendon ruptures
  • Gastrointestinal side effects: A peptic ulcer, pancreatitis, and ulcerative esophagitis
  • Skin conditions: Impaired wound healing, thin and fragile skin and facial erythema, or a reddening of the skin
  • Neurological complications: Convulsions and vertigo
  • Endocrine problems: Suppression of growth in children, lower carbohydrate tolerance
  • Vision irregularities: Development of posterior subcapsular cataracts and glaucoma
  • Metabolic issues: Negative nitrogen balance due to protein catabolism

This is not a complete list of all possible serious side effects. If you experience any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor or seek emergency medical help immediately.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you find yourself experiencing any of the following side effects, call your physician right away or seek emergency assistance:

  • Skin rash
  • Swelling of the face, lower legs or ankles
  • Changes in vision
  • A cold or infection that lasts for a sustained period
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tarry or black stool

Warnings

Your doctor will monitor your use of the drug over the course of treatment to determine whether you should continue using it. This may involve blood and urine tests. They may also ask you to weigh yourself frequently and report any usual weight gain while you are taking Medrol.

Before using Medrol, you should be aware that the use of this drug does come with several warnings:

  • Allergy: Do not take Medrol if you are allergic to methylprednisolone or any ingredients contained in this drug
  • Pregnancy: If you're using this drug while pregnant, it could harm your unborn child. If you believe you've become pregnant during the course of treatment, make sure you contact your doctor right away
  • Stress and anxiety: Notify your physician if you are currently experiencing significant stress and anxiety in your life. Depending on your emotional and psychological health, your doctor may alter your dosage
  • Adrenal gland problems: People who are on Medrol for a long period of time or who are using too much of it may have an increased risk for adrenal gland problems. Tell your doctor right away if you are experiencing blurred vision, fast or pounding heartbeat, increased urination or thirst, fainting and dizziness, irritability, or if you feel unusually tired or weak
  • Ulcers: If you have a history of ulcers or take large doses of aspirin or other arthritis medication, limit your alcohol consumption while on Medrol. Methylprednisolone makes your stomach and intestines more susceptible to the irritating effects of alcohol, aspirin, and certain arthritis medications, which increases your risk of ulcers
  • Diabetes: Methylprednisolone may increase your blood sugar level. If you monitor your blood sugar (glucose) at home, test your blood or urine more frequently than usual. Call your doctor if your blood sugar is high or if sugar is present in your urine
  • Infections: Corticosteroids like Medrol may hide some signs of an infection. You should avoid people who are sick and also practice good hygiene, including washing your hands regularly. Notify your doctor if you think you've been exposed to measles or chickenpox
  • Immunizations: Avoid getting any vaccinations without your doctor's approval while you're on this drug. Medrol may decrease your body's resistance and weaken a vaccine's effectiveness. Also, avoid anyone in your household or social circle who has just received a vaccine because they may pass the virus to you
  • Behavioral changes: You may experience shifts in your behavior, such as depression, sudden mood swings, disruption in your sleep patterns and personality shifts while on Medrol. Notify your doctor if you notice any of these changes

You may also be asked to report any injuries or signs of infection like fever, sore throat, pain during urination, and muscle aches that occur during treatment.

Interactions

Medrol can interact with other medications you are currently taking. Before starting a course of treatment, notify your doctor about other drugs you are on. Keep your doctor informed if you go on any new medications while you are taking Medrol, and let them know of any adverse reactions you experience.

Some medications should be avoided while you are on Medrol. Avoid using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), they can increase your risk of ulcers.

Using cyclosporine (decreases the body's immune system function) and Medrol at the same time can inhibit your metabolism. Using both drugs have resulted in convulsions in some people. Drugs like phenobarbital, phenytoin, and rifampin actually increase clearance of Medrol (the rate at which the active drug is removed from the body), which could mean you'll need an increased dose for it to be effective at all.

Other antibiotic medications like troleandomycin and ketoconazole inhibit the body's ability to metabolize Medrol and decrease its clearance rate. This would require the drug to be titrated so that you can avoid steroid toxicity in your system. Aspirin is another common drug that should be used with caution since Medrol actually increases the clearance of high-dose aspirin in the body.

This is not a complete list of all potential drug interactions with Medrol. Consult your doctor about how best to approach a course of Medrol treatment while on other medications and follow their instructions closely.

A Word From Verywell

While Medrol can be a helpful medication for treating inflammation, ask your doctor about any possible side effects before starting this drug. Knowing ahead of time what potential side effects you may experience while on Medrol will allow you to know what to expect and when you need to call your doctor or seek emergency medical help. By being informed about Medrol and being on top of how your body is responding to it will ensure that you get the best possible treatment for chronic inflammation.

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Article Sources
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  1. MedlinePlus. Methylprednisolone. Updated September 15, 2017.

  2. Mayo Clinic. Methylprednisolone (Injection Route). Updated December 2020.

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medrol® methylprednisolone tablets, USP. Updated September 2019.

  4. Mayo Clinic. Methylprednisolone (Oral Route). Updated July 1, 2020.