Prescribed to treat many conditions, including autoimmune disorders, asthma, and organ transplants, prednisone is not something you would expect to cause withdrawals. Unfortunately, anyone that tapers off too quickly or abruptly quits taking their medication could experience seriously uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Prednisone is a relatively powerful medication for fighting inflammation and swelling. This can make it a popular medication among individuals with conditions such as lupus, arthritis, or any form of acute or chronic inflammation, even useful for helping those with multiple sclerosis. However, no matter the dosage, there is a noted and significant effect on the immune system.
To help prevent these symptoms, it’s recommended that patients slowly wean off of prednisone rather than stopping quickly. Doing this with the supervision of a doctor is preferred, as they can help you prevent withdrawals and help you avoid the inflammation that leads to you taking the prednisone. If you or a loved one are facing a dependence on prednisone and need help stopping, reach out to a medical professional or treatment center for help.
Withdrawal Symptoms When Detoxing From Prednisone
Prednisone is a corticosteroid, a class of medication used to treat patients with low levels of the naturally-occurring hormone cortisol. This steroid replaces the hormone that isn’t being made on its own, altering how the immune system functions and reducing redness and swelling. Prednisone is a commonly prescribed medication that is often used to treat many different diseases and conditions.
- Asthma – Since many complications stem from asthma are due to the inflammation of the airway during an attack, prednisone can be a useful medication to help reduce that inflammation. It can be taken at the onset of an attack to help with other medications like albuterol, or it can be taken as a prophylactic measure on a regular schedule.
- Certain types of arthritis – Prednisone can be incredibly helpful when prescribed in conjunction with arthritis treatments. It can reduce the painful swelling and help to restore lost movement due to stiffness. In situations like this, it is often prescribed to be taken daily to keep swelling down.
- Lupus – Lupus is a disease primarily dealing with auto-immune function, in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy body tissues, which results in a great deal of painful inflammation. This makes it a prime candidate to be treated with prednisone since it can occur in many different areas of the body.
- Rashes – Chronic rashes are often treated with a steroid such as prednisone, which can be applied in relatively low doses to treat various rashes due to inflammation or irritation. In situations where the rashes are caused by fever, prednisone may also work to reduce the fever in conjunction with over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
One of the more serious situations in which a patient may be prescribed prednisone is after a patient receives a kidney transplant. Usually, the body will see a new organ as a foreign and unknown mass. Prednisone lowers the immune system’s response to the new kidney, helping to avoid organ rejection after the operation.
It should be noted that just because this is a steroid and not a commonly abused medication does not mean that those that wish to stop taking it are free from the risk of withdrawals. After taking any medication for an extended period, there is a chance of side effects when detoxing.
The most common side effects of prednisone withdrawals are:
- Body aches
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Severe fatigue
Potential Common Side Effects of Taking Prednisone
One of the downsides to taking prednisone in any capacity or dosage is the potential to experience side effects, whether mild or severe. As with most medications, prednisone can cause side effects even when taken according to your doctors’ instructions.
These side effects can include:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in mood
- Slowed healing of bruises and cuts
- Swelling of the face, arms, hands, feet, or lower legs
- Weight gain
Some additional side effects that users of prednisone may experience include difficulty or inability to fall asleep, severe shifts in the emotional state that often feature misplaced or inappropriate happiness, significant personality changes, thinning skin, bulging eyes, red or purple discoloration under the skin, much longer healing time for small wounds, increased hair growth, redistributed body fat deposits, changes in overall body composition, fatigue, weakness, low sex drive & libido, heartburn, and increased sweating.
Potentially Serious Side Effects of Taking Prednisone
While most side effects represent an uncomfortable or painful result of medication use, other side effects are incredibly serious. These side effects can be early indications of severe and even potentially deadly complications or interactions. If you experience any of the following symptoms while on prednisone, you should alert your doctor or medical care professional immediately:
- Pain or redness of the eyes
- Vision problems
- Sudden seizures
- Sore throat or cough
- Unproductive cough
- Nausea or vomiting
- Any signs of general infection
- Sudden weight gain
- Breaking from reality
- Muscle twitching, tremors, or cramping
- Feelings of burning or tingling in the face, fingers, or toes
- Feeling unable to catch their breath
- Pain or swelling in the stomach or abdomen
- Difficulty swallowing
- Itching, rashes, or hives
- Swelling in the face or extremities
Experiencing these symptoms can indicate a possibly life-threatening situation and requires emergency medical attention.
Prednisone Withdrawal Timeline
When stopping any medication, it’s important to listen to your doctor’s instructions on how to do it most safely. When it comes to stopping prednisone, the recommendation is that you slowly taper off to avoid withdrawals. The best way to do this is under the supervision of a medical professional, whether your physician or you go through a treatment center designed to help people detox from drugs.
One of the important things our bodies are supposed to make is cortisol, but unfortunately, not everyone makes enough of it on their own. Luckily prednisone is a steroid that is very similar to cortisol and can help with what cortisol is supposed to do, like reduce swelling and inflammation. Prednisone also works extremely quickly, making it perfect for acute and chronic conditions.
Unfortunately, if you take prednisone for an extended time, your body will start making less cortisol after a few weeks. If you take things slowly and taper off the prednisone, your adrenal glands can catch up and start making normal cortisol levels. This could be just a few weeks before you’re at a safe level, or it could be months.
Tapering the steroids under the supervision of your doctor is the safest way to go. They can give you a schedule that helps you lower your dose over time. They’ll be able to monitor you and make sure you are truly ready to be off of it before you stop, as well.
As you begin the tapering process, it is normal to feel mild withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms generally last one to two weeks as you are tapering. Make sure to avoid other medications unless your doctor says it’s okay.
The psychological symptoms can stick around longer than the physical ones. Frequently, the psychological withdrawals can last two to eight weeks. Your doctor may want to take blood tests and monitor your cortisol levels as you are weaning off the medication.
How to Recover Safely From Prednisone Withdrawal
Prednisone withdrawal symptoms will not be severe, but they won’t be a cakewalk either. Some common ways to cope with the withdrawals are counseling, exercise, meditation, and physical therapy. Your doctor should be able to give you some great suggestions on how to manage the withdrawals.
If you have only been on prednisone for three weeks or less, your doctor may advise that you don’t need to taper. If that’s the case, you should have a pretty easy time stopping the prednisone. However, your tapering process could take two months for those taking prednisone for a year or more.
The most important thing to remember is that you should not handle tapering and wean off prednisone on your own. You need to allow your adrenal glands time to recover and ramp up cortisol production. With the help of your doctor or a treatment center, detox and managing your withdrawal symptoms are possible.
If you or someone you care for may be having challenges or difficulties handling a safe prednisone withdrawal, be sure to reach out to a recovery center with experienced professionals for assistance. Not only can you ensure that the entire detox and withdrawal phase is completed under safe and attentive medical supervision, but you will also be able to leverage other resources to ensure a strong and lasting recovery. You don’t have to face the recovery process alone, our Orange County drug rehab is here to help.
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1. The University of Illinois. Prednisone: Side effects, dosage, uses, and more. Published June 21, 2022. Accessed July 30, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/prednisone-oral-tablet