Corticosteroids are used extensively for treatment of a wide range of conditions. This includes blood disorders, various skin infections, allergic conditions, and as immunosuppressants to ensure that organ transplants have better success rates. The prescription drug is also used for its anti-inflammatory properties in addition to the anti-suppressant action. The extensive use of the medication and its mechanism of action makes it necessary for patients to understand all about the possible side effects of the corticosteroid. Here is a detailed look at the side effects of prednisone and the mechanism of action of the medication.

Drug overview – prednisone

Before we look at the side effects of prednisone, let us first take a good look at the drug and its mechanism of action. Prednisone is intended to replace the low levels of steroids in the body that are typically produced naturally. The medication is prescribed for use either alone or in combination with other medications to treat conditions that require a boost from corticosteroids. Additionally, the drug is also used for patients with normal corticosteroid levels depending on certain conditions. For instance, individuals with arthritis, allergies, lupus, and conditions related to the lungs, kidney, intestines, stomach and eyes require prednisone as treatment. Specific symptoms associated with certain types of cancer are also treated with prednisone.

Mechanism of action and side effects of prednisone

The corticosteroid works by reducing the amount of inflammation and by altering the body’s immune reaction. This is precisely why the medication is used to suppress the normal response of the body to foreign bodies, during organ transplant. The drug is also used to treat autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis wherein the body ends up incorrectly responding to it sown system causing arthritis. Typically available as prescription tablets and also in liquid formulations, prednisone is also available as injections that are administered under medical supervision.

To understand the side effects of prednisone it is important to understand who the drug works. The broad action of corticosteroids includes a binding action with the glucocorticoid receptor, as a result of which the pro-inflammatory signals are stopped, while the anti-inflammatory signals are facilitated. The drug is known to have a shorter duration of action and a wide therapeutic index. As a result of this, specialists advise that patients need to be specifically informed about possible risks associated with consumption of the medication – exposure to infections arising from suppression of immune response.

The corticosteroid is metabolized in the liver and becomes prednisolone. The commonly known effects of the drug include reduction in vasodilation and inhibition of movement of leukocytes to areas where inflammation occurs. This is responsible for the anti-inflammatory action. By binding to the glucocorticoid receptor, the corticosteroids bring about changes that last for days. Prednisone works by inhibiting arachidonic acid and other inflammatory factors, while simultaneously working to promote anti-inflammatory factors. The drug dosage is carefully calculated to ensure that desired outcomes. For instance, prednisone is known to exert anti-inflammatory effects when lower doses are administered, while the corticosteroid brings about immunosuppressive action when heavy doses are administered. The side effects of prednisone are also linked to the doses and the reasons for prescription of the medication.

Commonly reported side effects of prednisone

Commonly reported side effects of prednisone include feelings of dizziness, sudden change in mood, sudden headache and difficulty in sleeping for usual duration. Individuals are likely to feel happy for no reason, experience changes in behaviour, while observing abnormal growth of hair. The skin is likely to turn thin, with increased outbreak of acne, the eyes could start bulging and the individual may experience a change in the manner in which fat accumulates in the body. The skin color may change to red or turn blotchy with lines appearing under the surface of the skin. Individuals are likely to find that regular bruising takes longer to heal, while experiencing overall tiredness in addition to abnormal sweating. Muscles are likely to feel weak, and individuals are most likely to end up lesser libido or the desire to indulge in sexual activities. Heartburn and abnormal menstruation cycles are possible side effects that patients will have to contend with as a result of the medication. These side effects are relatively common and are known to resolve naturally during the course of the medication without the need for any medical intervention. When side effects persist or when the effects are intense in nature, patients are advised to seek medical assistance.

Serious side effects of prednisone

While the above side effects of prednisone are relatively common and mild in nature, there are other side effects that are serious and rare in nature. For instance, patients are likely to experience problems in vision, pain in the eyes, sudden seizures, abnormal twitching of the muscles and stiffness in the muscles. Individuals are likely to experience confusion, or end up depressed, and also exhibit behaviour that is not grounded or rooted in reality. There could be a redness around the eyes with tear ducts working overtime, in addition to experiencing sore throat and fever. Various other indications of infections are also possible, and that includes cough and tremors, with possible uncontrollable shaking of the hands. Individuals are also likely to have an upset stomach, and a vomiting sensation. Other side effects that are regarded as serious in nature include a light feeling, and a numb sensation in the face, the feet, hands and legs, apart from a burning or a tingling sensation in the face. The pace of heartbeats could turn irregular, while weight gain could also occur. During the nights, individuals may experience a shortness of breath, and difficulty in swallowing, apart from cough that is dry in nature. Allergies such as rashes, itching and hives are a possibility as a result of the suppressed immune system, while pain or swelling in the stomach are also possible side effects.

Side effects of prednisone that need to be monitored with greater care

Children who are prescribed prednisone may exhibit different types of side effects. For instance, it is possible that children may end up with reduced growth and development as a result of the medication. Parents whose children have been prescribed prednisone need to look out for signs of lesser than normal growth and look at alternative medications to avoid the side effects of prednisone. There is a possibility of patients developing osteoporosis as a result of taking prednisone. Patients in high risk categories are advised to discuss the same with treating specialists and look at alternative options. Another side effect that can be observed among a small number of patients on prednisone includes Kaposi sarcoma. This refers to a cancerous growth that is typically located beneath the skin in the mouth, throat, nose and lymph nodes. Red or purple in color, these lesions are abnormal tissues that are cancerous in nature.

Precautions to be taken to prevent side effects of prednisone from turning serious

Certain precautions need to be taken to prevent the side effects of prednisone from turning serious in nature. For instance, patients who have missed taking a dose are not to take a double dose make up for the missed dose. The medication is not to be stopped abruptly, and the treating specialist should be consulted for recommendations before deciding to stop the medication. Typically, specialists gradually reduce the dosage of prednisone over a period of time, prior to stopping the medication. This helps manage the withdrawal symptoms and side effects of prednisone more effectively. Additionally, patients on prednisone are expected to reduce the intake of salt and sugar in diet, while carefully monitoring changes in weight. Medical attention is required when patients experience certain symptoms – for instance, abnormal changes in vision, difficulty in breathing, swallowing and observance of discoloration around the mouth throat and nose. Similarly individuals who observe abnormal dark color in faeces are expected to seek medical attention.

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