How Prednisone Affects Heart Rate

Prednisone is a corticosteroid used to treat a number of inflammatory conditions, including severe allergic reaction, certain forms of arthritis, endocrine disorders, and immune system disorders. It is also used to treat certain types of cancer.

However, prednisone comes with many side effects, one of which is a change in heart rate. This medication can cause irregular potassium, calcium, and phosphate levels, which can cause heartbeat irregularities.

Female doctor examining patient. Medical professional checking woman's back with stethoscope in clinic.

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Why Prednisone Is Prescribed

Prednisone is used to treat a wide variety of conditions.

Adrenal Insufficiency

Prednisone treats people with low corticosteroid levels by mimicking the effects of cortisol, which is naturally produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. When the body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone cortisol, adrenal insufficiency like Addison’s disease occurs.

Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Musculoskeletal pain

Other Conditions

Prednisone also helps with other conditions where corticosteroid levels are normal by hindering the immune system’s activity to reduce symptoms, such as swelling, inflammation, itching, and allergic reactions.

These other conditions include:

Side Effects Involving Heart Rate

One of the side effects of prednisone is cardiac arrhythmias, or heart rhythm problems. More specifically, prednisone has been found to cause bradycardia (a slowed heartbeat) in many cases.

Heart rate issues caused by prednisone can occur on their own or with other side effects of the medication.

The incidence of heart problems in people who use prednisone is unclear, but large population-based studies have found that people who use glucocorticosteroids like prednisone long term had substantially higher rates of heart attack, heart failure, or cerebrovascular disease.

Other adverse cardiac effects the medication can cause include fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), flutter (regular but quickened heart rate), and ventricular tachycardia (a heart that beats too fast to pump blood, leading to low blood oxygen levels).

These side effects are typically associated with intravenous treatments of prednisone, but recent research has shown that taking corticosteroids orally also poses the same risks.  

Who Is at Risk

Although research has shown that bradycardia can develop in anyone taking prednisone, some people are more at risk than others.

People with heart conditions and kidney or renal diseases are more likely to develop bradycardia or heart issues while taking prednisone than those without these conditions.

The rate of infusion plays a role in these effects in those receiving their treatments intravenously. The rate of infusion refers to how long it takes to administer the dose, and for those receiving theirs in less than 30 minutes, the risk of developing a heart issue is higher.

When to Call Your Doctor

People who are at high risk of developing cardiac arrhythmias while using prednisone should go through heart monitoring prior to beginning the medication.

For those who do not have any pre-existing health conditions, learning how to monitor their heart rate will be a great help in keeping track of any symptoms or changes while on the medication.

An irregular heartbeat is associated with an increased risk of blood clots and can lead to complications such as stroke, heart failure, or heart attack.

Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are also more common in people who have arrhythmia. This may be due to reduced blood flow to the brain over time.

Therefore, call your doctor right away if you notice changes to your heartbeat. They can tell you if it’s something that needs to be monitored or examined.

If you are taking prednisone and begin to experience chest pressure or pain, shortness of breath, or have a heart rate lower than 50 beats per minute that is accompanied by symptoms such as feeling faint or passing out, seek emergency medical attention.

A Word From Verywell

Prednisone is typically safe to use. Since the medication does come with some adverse effects, prior to beginning a new medication treatment, discuss the benefits and side effects of prednisone with your healthcare professional so that you have all the facts you need to make an informed decision.

It is your body and your health, and you want to make sure you’re minimizing health issues, not adding to them.

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