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What is Prednisone?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Prednisone is a drug called a corticosteroid that has numerous uses due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It is prescribed for short or long-term to treat certain conditions like extreme allergies, autoimmune diseases, as a method of preventing transplant rejection, for swelling in body tissues like concussion, and for many other things. There are extraordinary benefits to using a drug like prednisone and many people tolerate it well, especially for short-term use. Unfortunately, the longer the drug is used, the more side effects it can produce, and presence of side effects have to be evaluated on a risk versus benefits basis to determine if use should be continued.

It’s difficult to describe dosage for prednisone since it may vary by condition. When prescribed on a short-term basis, dose may start low, increase and then decrease so medication is gradually withdrawn. People can have a comedown effect if tapering off doesn’t occur, even if the drug is only used for a week or two.

Those taking the medication for a longer period of time would probably take the same dosage each day. Sometimes it’s advocated that people take drug holidays, where they discontinue the medicine for a short period of time before they resume taking it. As for amount of dosage, this can vary, and prednisone can be taken orally, in intravenous solutions or directly injected, and it may be administered to people of any age.

The potential for severe side effects sometimes outweighs benefits of this medication. It has to be used with caution in anyone with liver or kidney damage, as it may exacerbate these conditions. The drug may also greatly reduce immune system response and make people vulnerable to repeated infections of viral, bacterial and fungal types.

Those prescribed the drug must be careful to avoid others with active infections and this can be hard to do. Moreover, especially in kids, there’s concern about vaccines administered while taking this medication. Generally, doctors will wait until a course of prednisone is finished before vaccine administration because it heightens risk of getting sick from live vaccines and it lowers the chance that inactive vaccines will actually work.

Some dangerous side effects associated with prednisone include vomiting blood, black stools or severe mood distortion. Unfortunately, prednisone may also cause bouts of pancreatitis or very high blood pressure. Doctors will usually carefully observe people taking the drug, especially over a long period of time to be certain these conditions don’t develop.

Over long-term use, prednisone may cause extreme swelling of the face and a “chipmunk cheek appearance.” It may also result in discoloration of facial skin, extra hair growth, distortions in mood, weight gain, and thinning or dry skin. These side effects are difficult, but they still may be tolerated if need to use prednisone is strong.

This corticosteroid may also interact with a number of medications and medical conditions. Patients should be thoroughly evaluated prior to receiving this medication to help prevent harmful interactions.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Dec 27, 2013

Prednisone does have side effects, but the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. Overall, it's a great drug.

I'm taking prednisone for a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica. This condition causes a lot of pain and prednisone is excellent for it. I don't have any pain and before I started taking this medication, I didn't think that this would be possible.

I think those struggling with prednisone side effects should speak to their doctor about their dose. A dose adjustment might resolve some of the issues.

By SarahGen — On Dec 26, 2013

@fBoyle-- Weight gain is a well known side effect of prednisone. I think that some weight gain is unavoidable, but you will gain less weight if you continue eating healthy and exercising. Also, what you consider to be weight gain might actually be water retention, which is another side effect. If you drink lots of water and avoid salt, the water retention should reduce.

As for the mood changes, it happened to me too when I took prednisone. My husband knew that it was a side effect though and just ignored it when I was upset. The good thing is that no one takes prednisone forever. So eventually, things will go back to normal.

By fBoyle — On Dec 26, 2013

I'm taking prednisone for Crohn's disease. It's definitely helping but I'm not happy about the side effects. I've been gaining weight even though I watch what I eat and exercise regularly. I also have mood changes because of prednisone. I lash out at people all of the sudden and even I don't know why I'm upset.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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