Can Prednisone Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Introduction

Prednisone is a drug that suppresses your immune system and reduces inflammation. It’s used to treat many conditions, including:

  • psoriasis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • ulcerative colitis
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Although prednisone withdrawal usually happens after long-term treatment, it can happen after short-term treatment as well. Stopping the drug or reducing your use too quickly may lead to withdrawal.

Talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes to your medications or stopping them.

If you’re taking prednisone for any treatment, you should know about prednisone withdrawal.

Causes of prednisone withdrawal

Prednisone is a man-made steroid. It’s very similar to cortisol, a hormone your body makes naturally.

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Cortisol helps to regulate your:

  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • response to stress

Your body generally works to make sure there’s a consistent level of cortisol.

However, this can change when prednisone is in your body for 3 weeks or longer. Your body senses the prednisone and uses it like cortisol. In response, your body then lowers the amount of cortisol it makes naturally.

It takes your body time to adjust how much cortisol it makes based on the amount of prednisone you take.

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When you stop taking prednisone, your body needs just as much time to readjust its cortisol production. If you stop taking prednisone suddenly, your body can’t make enough cortisol right away to make up for the loss. This can cause a condition called prednisone withdrawal.

Symptoms of prednisone withdrawal

Prednisone withdrawal is different from how we typically imagine withdrawal.

That is, prednisone withdrawal doesn’t cause you to crave prednisone. It’s not a medication that causes symptoms of addiction. Still, it does affect your body physically, and it can disrupt several of your body’s functions.

The symptoms of prednisone withdrawal can include:

  • severe fatigue
  • weakness
  • body aches
  • joint pain
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Depending on how long you’ve been taking prednisone, your withdrawal symptoms may last from a few weeks to up to 12 months, perhaps even longer.

However, following your healthcare provider’s instructions for slowly tapering your dosage of prednisone when you begin to stop taking it can help to shorten the amount of time that you have withdrawal symptoms.

Preventing withdrawal

Your healthcare provider will slowly taper your dosage to help prevent prednisone withdrawal. How long this process takes depends on:

  • how much prednisone your healthcare provider prescribed to treat your condition
  • how long you’ve been using it
  • what you take it for

A prednisone taper could take weeks, but it usually takes 1 month or longer. There’s no specific time frame for tapering that’ll work for everyone.

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You can also do other things to help ramp up your body’s cortisol production.

Try these tips:

  • Make sure to get enough sleep.
  • Try to avoid stressful situations.
  • Eat healthy foods that are higher in saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and vitamins B-5, B-6, and C.
  • Cut back on caffeine and alcohol.

Talk to your doctor

It’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s dosing instructions when taking prednisone and especially when stopping it. Taking the drug properly will go a long way in helping you prevent prednisone withdrawal.

Still, withdrawal is possible even when you follow all instructions because individual tapering results can vary. That’s why it’s very important to watch out for symptoms of withdrawal.

Contact your healthcare provider if you have any symptoms, and they may adjust your prednisone taper.

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