If you have inflammatory, endocrine or skin disorders, your doctor may prescribe prednisone to suppress your immune system. Prednisone side effects can be severe, though. If you must take this medication for any reason, familiarizing yourself with what to expect can help minimize discomfort.
What Is Prednisone?
According to the Mayo Clinic, prednisone is a corticosteroid intended to provide relief for various inflamed areas of the body. It is used to treat a variety of conditions, such as endocrine problems, stomach or bowel disorders, adrenal issues, severe allergies and more.
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This medication works on the immune system to help improve the symptoms associated with certain conditions. It is only available with a doctor's prescription and comes in tablet and solution formulations.
How you take this medicine depends on your condition and its severity. You should take it exactly as directed by your doctor. Don't use it longer than necessary or in larger doses than prescribed. Make sure you take the medication with food or milk to avoid irritating your stomach.
The amount of prednisone you take depends on the strength of the medicine. The number of daily doses and the time between doses, along with the length of time you take the medicine, depend on the medical problem you're treating. If you must use prednisone for an extended period, don't stop suddenly without talking with your doctor. It may be necessary to slightly decrease the dose before stopping it completely.
Prednisone Side Effects
The U.S. National Library of Medicine points out that prednisone may cause a number of side effects. You should speak to your doctor if any of the symptoms are severe or persist. Prednisone side effects may include:
- Extreme mood changes
- Changes in personality
- Headaches and dizziness
- Decreased sexual desire
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased hair growth
- Slow healing
- Increased sweating
Call your doctor immediately if you experience:
- Any signs of an allergic reaction, such a swelling of the eyes, face, hands, feet, ankles, tongue or throat, or itching, hives and rash
- Difficulty breathing
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Sudden weight gain
- Issues with vision
- Signs of infection such as fever, cough, chills or sore throat
- Irregular heartbeat
While it's technically safe to consume prednisone and caffeine, it is not recommended that you do so if you're dealing with insomnia as a prednisone side effect. If you're having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, adding caffeine will likely worsen the issue.
The same goes for prednisone and alcohol. Using caffeine and other stimulants like nicotine may cause insomnia or difficulty sleeping, even when you're not using a corticosteroid medication.
When it comes to prednisone and alcohol, there are some cases where moderate alcohol use may be OK. However, it's important to note that alcohol suppresses the immune system.
According to a 2015 issue of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, alcohol has widespread effects on the immune system. This substance alters the microbes in the gut microbiota, which may affect immune function. Alcohol consumption doesn't have to be chronic to produce negative reactions. Acute binge drinking can also negatively affect your immune system.
When you consider that corticosteroids like prednisone also suppress the immune system, it's important to speak with your doctor about using alcohol while under medical treatment. In most cases, it's best not to combine prednisone and alcohol.
The University of Wisconsin notes that if you are taking prednisone, you may retain water, experience an increase in your appetite and gain weight. To prevent water retention, you should decrease your sodium intake. You can do this by limiting processed foods in your diet.
Smoked and cured meats, deli meats, canned vegetables and soups, chips, frozen dinners and crackers are all high in sodium. Instead of using salt on your food, add flavorful herbs and spices, such as garlic, basil, oregano or onion powder, to your meals.
While taking prednisone, it's important to make sure that you're eating enough protein. Include lots of eggs, dried beans, peanut butter and meat in your diet. As long as your kidneys are working well, aim to consume at least two to three servings of protein a day.
Because prednisone is likely to stimulate your appetite, paying attention to portion sizes and the total amount of calories and fat consumed is crucial if you want to avoid weight gain. If you still feel hungry after your meals, fresh fruit and vegetables can fill you up quickly without a lot of extra calories.
For some patients, using corticosteroids for a long time may cause an increase in blood sugar levels. If your doctor prescribes a special diet with or without medication to control your blood sugar, be sure to follow it to reduce the severity of prednisone side effects.
Read more: 8 Foods that Boost Your Immune System
Understanding Prednisone Interactions
According to the Cleveland Clinic, you should not take prednisone if you are taking metyrapone or mifepristone.
Prednisone may interact with other medications, including aspirin and aspirin-like medicines, certain drugs for diabetes, barbiturates, female hormones such as birth control pills, diuretics, ephedrine, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or Ibuprofen, and others. That's why it's important to tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking, including prescription, over-the-counter, any herbal supplements or vitamins and minerals.
To prevent the likelihood of prednisone interactions, stop using over-the-counter NSAIDs and diuretics while you are taking this medicine. Women who are using any form of hormonal birth control should speak with their doctor about how the prednisone will affect it. Though you may still be able to use oral contraceptives, it may render the birth control less effective, meaning you will need to use a backup method until after you stop taking prednisone.
If you experience any odd symptoms or side effects that you suspect could be a result of prednisone interactions, speak to your doctor immediately. In most cases, the side effects will subside after you use the medication for a while. If you need to take it over the long term to treat your condition, keep up with all doctor appointments for proper monitoring.