Will the Side Effects from Prednisone Lessen or Go Away?

Certain Side Effects From Prednisone Are Permanent, While Others Are Temporary

Hands holding medication
Prednisone is a commonly-used drug to treat IBD and other inflammatory conditions, but it is associated with many side effects.. Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Prednisone is a medication that is often used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), as well as a host of other diseases and conditions. It can be very effective in getting acute IBD symptoms under control, but the list of potential side effects that this drug can cause is extensive. 

The good news is that most side effects will go away when the dose of prednisone is lowered and then the drug is stopped altogether.

One of the goals of treating IBD is to use prednisone sparingly and to get patients off it as soon as possible. Knowing about the potential for side effects goes a long way towards minimizing them and coping with them when they do happen. If your doctor has prescribed prednisone, it's because the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks of the side effects. 

Why Is Prednisone Used?

In some cases, such as for an acute inflammation like an upper respiratory tract infection, the course of prednisone might be short; it's only used for a few days or weeks. People with IBD, however, may find their physicians have prescribed them prednisone for months or even years. The goal of IBD treatment is typically to wean a patient off the steroids, but sometimes it can be difficult. Some people can taper their drug dosage down to a certain point, but then symptoms return and they must bump it back up again.

Types of Prednisone Side Effects

Where unwanted side effects are concerned, physicians will often refer to them as adverse effects, because that is a better description. Some of the adverse effects from prednisone can be very upsetting, especially physical ones such as facial "mooning" (the face taking on a moon-like swollen shape), acne, and increased hair growth (hirsutism).

The increased appetite, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping caused by prednisone can also negatively affect quality of life.

The good news is that these side effects do go away when the dosage of prednisone is tapered down and discontinued. How long it will take to get the dose low and finally down to nothing depends on the length of time that prednisone was used and the dosage. The longer the prednisone was taken and the higher the dose, the longer it will take to taper down and stop it.

The body itself produces a substance that is equivalent to about 5 mg of prednisone. A short course of 10 mg of prednisone a day may not cause side effects. However, either a dosage of 10 to 20 mg a day for a month or more -- or a dosage of more than 20 mg a day for any length of time -- could cause some adverse effects.

Some Side Effects That May Be Permanent

As the prednisone dosage is tapered down below 10 mg a day and eventually discontinued, the temporary side effects will lessen and reverse. It should be noted, however, that some potential adverse effects of prednisone are permanent, and discontinuing the drug will not reverse them.

This includes glaucoma, cataracts, osteoporosis (bone weakness), and osteonecrosis (bone death).

Sources:

UW Medicine. Corticosteroids for Arthritis. University of Washington–Seattle Dec 30 2004. 10 Sept 2013.

MedlinePlus. Prednisone. U.S. National Library of Medicine 1 Sept 2010. 10 Sept 2013.​​

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