Prednisone is a steroid-type drug. When a person stops taking prednisone or other steroids abruptly, they may notice symptoms including lethargy, low appetite, weight loss, and a general feeling of being unwell.
Prednisone is a glucocorticoid — a type of corticosteroid — that doctors prescribe to treat swelling and inflammation. It relieves swelling, itching, and inflammation by suppressing the immune system.
Doctors should prescribe the lowest possible dose of prednisone to meet a person’s health needs. This is because of the risk of adverse effects.
When a person needs to stop taking prednisone, a doctor will recommend doing so gradually to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
In this article, learn the withdrawal symptoms of prednisone, why they happen, and how to prevent them.
Prednisone is a glucocorticoid, which is a synthetic steroid that works to mimic the effects of cortisol, a hormone that the adrenal glands produce.
Some people refer to cortisol as the stress hormone. However, cortisol does much more than manage stress. The body also uses cortisol to regulate the heart rate and blood pressure.
Without medication, the body naturally maintains a consistent level of cortisol.
However, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), when a person takes prednisone for longer than a few weeks, the body will reduce the amount of cortisol it makes.
When a person suddenly stops taking prednisone, the body cannot immediately produce enough cortisol to make up for the missing drug. This results in withdrawal symptoms.
While the adrenal glands make most of the body’s cortisol, many different types of cells in the body have cortisol receptors.
As a result, the body uses cortisol for many functions,
When the body is not producing enough cortisol to compensate for the missing prednisone, a person can experience a range of symptoms while the body readjusts. This is known as adrenal insufficiency.
People who stop using prednisone after a long time may experience symptoms such as:
Older research from 2007 states that a person can experience:
- a general feeling of being unwell (malaise)
- weight loss
- darkening of the skin
- joint stiffness
How long does prednisone withdrawal last?
Symptoms can vary in intensity and may last anywhere from a few days to several months after discontinuing the drug.
The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms usually correlate with the length of time a person was taking prednisone and the size of their regular dose.
People who are using prednisone should check with a doctor before stopping or reducing their dose.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of prednisone withdrawal after reducing the dose or stopping the medication should consult a doctor.
The doctor may adjust the taper schedule and recommend ways to manage the withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for prednisone withdrawal focuses on managing the symptoms and controlling the body’s cortisol production.
Some lifestyle choices that can help manage prednisone withdrawal symptoms include:
- getting enough sleep
- using strategies to manage stress
- avoiding or limiting caffeine and alcohol
- eating a varied and nutritious diet
In some cases, these lifestyle approaches may not be enough to help a person with severe symptoms.
People who have severe symptoms while stopping prednisone should consult a doctor immediately. The doctor may need to readjust the tapering plan or treat any health complications.
To stop taking prednisone safely, a person will need to reduce their dosage gradually. However, it is important to do this under the guidance of a doctor. A doctor will provide a person with specific instructions on how to stop taking the medication.
To help prevent prednisone withdrawal, a person can take the following precautions while using prednisone and during the taper period afterward:
- stick to the recommended dosage and not take more than the doctor prescribes
- taper the dose according to the doctor’s instructions
- avoid suddenly stopping prednisone treatment
When a person first starts decreasing the amount of prednisone, they may experience aching or tiredness. This is common. However, they should contact a doctor if these symptoms do not resolve over 7 days.
Doctors prescribe prednisone for numerous conditions, including:
- endocrine disorders that lead to low cortisone levels
- rheumatoid arthritis and other types of arthritis
- diseases that affect collagen, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or lupus
- severe allergies and asthma
- some skin conditions, such as severe psoriasis
- eye problems, for example, allergic conjunctivitis
- some respiratory diseases
- some blood disorders, for example, acquired hemolytic anemia
- severe flares of some chronic gastrointestinal diseases
- multiple sclerosis flares
- some types of edema, or fluid retention
When doctors prescribe prednisone, they will generally specify a dosage that gradually decreases over several days to prevent prednisone withdrawal.
They will usually not prescribe prednisone or other corticosteroids for long-term use, as the drugs can have severe adverse effects.
Symptoms are typically self-limiting and will resolve with time. People will recover from prednisone withdrawal once their body begins producing enough cortisol again.
However, the duration of symptomatic withdrawal will vary according to the dosage of prednisone the person was taking and the length of treatment.
Prednisone is a synthetic steroid that mimics the effects of cortisol in the body. When a person takes prednisone for extended periods, the body decreases the amount of cortisol it produces.
When a person stops taking prednisone, they can experience withdrawal symptoms until the body begins producing sufficient amounts of cortisol. Common withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain.
To help prevent prednisone withdrawal symptoms, a person should taper the amount of the medication slowly and under the guidance of a doctor.