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Prednisone is a steroid used to treat inflammation and to suppress immune system function. More specifically it is a type of corticosteroid called a glucocorticoid. It is a catabolic steroid, rather than an anabolic steroid, and as such offers no benefit as a performance-enhancing drug.

In hospital settings prednisone may be administered intravenously, but the majority of treatment is done via tablet. Syrups or oral suspensions are also available for children or patients who have difficulty swallowing.

While prednisone is usually a very effective treatment, long-term use can produce a number of potentially serious complications. Treatment with the lowest dose possible for the shortest time possible is preferred. When the medication is given long-term, as may be the case in certain chronic illnesses, frequent doctor checkups are strongly encouraged to monitor for developing adverse effects.

Prednisone Uses

Because it is a potent medication, and thus may produce serious side effects, use of prednisone is typically reserved for moderate to serious conditions and rarely used in mild cases. Otherwise, it may be used in any condition in which the reduction of inflammation or immune system function is beneficial. A partial list of conditions in which prednisone is commonly used includes:

  • Rheumatic arthritis and other rheumatic disorders
  • Moderate to severe allergic conditions
  • Many respiratory conditions
  • Certain eye diseases
  • Certain skin conditions
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Collagen conditions
  • Certain blood diseases
  • Certain nervous system disorders
  • Some gastrointestinal diseases
  • Certain cancer treatments

Dosage is determined on a case-by-case basis; two patients with same condition may be prescribed very different doses. Doses generally range from 1 mg to 60 mg; it is rare to exceed 80 mg in one day.

There are two general methods of administration:

  • Daily administration is the most common; tablets are taken daily for several days or weeks. Large daily doses are usually divided into two or three smaller doses, taken throughout the day.
  • Alternate Day Therapy (ADT) may be used when treatment is very long term (months or years), particularly when the patient is a still-growing child. In ADT, a double dose is taken every other day, rather than a single dose every day. This method is thought to prevent certain side effects from developing.

The majority of prednisone use is to treat short-term flare-ups from chronic conditions, in which cases it is typically taken for several days or a couple weeks at most. If prednisone (or any corticosteroid) is used for more than one week, treatment should be tapered down gradually over several days, rather than stopping abruptly.

Long-term treatment, spanning months or years, often starts with a few weeks of higher doses before being tapered down to a low maintenance dose. In long-term treatment it is not unusual for dosage to be periodically adjusted.

Effects are usually noticed quickly, sometimes within just hours of the first dose. Patients often experience significant pain relief as inflammation subsides. Some people feel energized while using prednisone, or have feelings of well-being. These effects are very mild compared to other drugs, however, and are unlikely to be addictive.

Precautions & Side Effects

One of the bigger concerns with prednisone, particularly if used for more than a few days, is its suppression of the immune system. This makes patients more susceptible to getting sick, and recovery may be significantly impaired. It is, therefore, important while on prednisone to:

  • Try to avoid circumstances in which an infection may be acquired--avoid contact with sick people, people who have recently had live-virus vaccinations, and so forth;
  • Make sure even minor wounds are promptly cleaned and dressed properly;
  • Wash hands frequently;
  • Notify physicians or dentists of prednisone use before having any procedures done;
  • Be alert for symptoms of infection--fever, chills, coughing, diarrhea, painful urination, pain, seepage or swelling at an injury site, and so forth;
  • If an infection is suspected, it should be promptly brought to the attention of a doctor.

More commonly side effects are mild and not cause for concern, including increased appetite, difficulty sleeping, fluid retention in the face, hands, or feet, mild weight gain and mild stomach upset. If these symptoms become severe, seek medical attention.


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Medicines have benefits and some have risks. Always read the label and use only as directed. If symptoms persist or you have side effects see your health professional.

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