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How Long Does it Take Prednisone to Work?

How Long Does it Take Prednisone to Work?

How Long Does it Take Prednisone to Work?

Prednisone can work within hours after just one dose, depending on (1) what you’re taking it for, and (2) how high of a dose your doctor prescribed. It’s an individualized answer with many factors to consider.

Is it like your grandma always said that “a watched pot never boils”? How long does prednisone take to work? Find out more in the rest of this article about how to figure out when prednisone will start working for you.

Watch now!

How many hours does it take for prednisone to work?

First, since I’m a pharmacist, I’m going to cover the boring part about the science of the drug itself. Then I’ll answer the more exciting part–probably the real question you have–in more detail at the end.

Prednisone is absorbed once you swallow it in an hour to two hours. That’s when it enters your bloodstream; when it’s “kicked in.”

Prednisone Half-life

Prednisone’s half-life is two to three hours. So the prednisone molecule is mostly out of your system within a day, for most people at least. It all depends.

How many hours does it take for prednisone to work

That fancy-schmancy pharmacology factoid doesn’t really answer your question, though, does it?

You might still be wondering, “But when is prednisone going to actually do its job? When is prednisone going to work for the reason I’m taking it?”


My Prednisone Journey

To explain, I will illustrate the principles with my own prednisone journey. I’m going to tell you my story: why I took prednisone.

One day, I had this random strange rash that turned out to be a bleeding disorder. My immune system was attacking my own blood cells, called platelets, and killing them. That meant I could bleed to death.

A purple-colored painless lesion on my arm called purpura, the “P” in ITP.

It was terrible! I was this perfectly healthy person who suddenly was hospitalized and the doctor said, “you can’t go home for a week.” 

“What? I’ve got small kids at home! I gotta be their mommy.”

The doctors said, “Nope, we’re going to give you this drug, prednisone. And you just sit here in the hospital, even though you don’t feel sick, because your immune system is attacking you.”

So I took my first dose of prednisone that night, right after I got diagnosed with ITP, my bleeding disorder.

Then they checked my blood the next morning. Then they checked it the next night, the following morning, and the next morning. By that third day, they said, “We’ve watched your blood test (platelet count) go up, and up, and up, and you’re doing great. We’re going to send you home in less than a week!”

I was thrilled! “Yes! I can help my kids get their Halloween costumes on and be home to Trick-or-Treat.”

So for me, just that one huge first dose was enough to make the prednisone start to work. Prednisone worked after just one dose for me.

My story showed that (1) the diagnosis of ITP responded quickly, and (2) the dose was high enough to work quickly. We will go into these two vital factors in more depth next.

prednisone and other drugs

1. What is prednisone used for?

But what really matters in knowing the answer to “how long does it take prednisone to work?” is what you’re taking prednisone for. Every person has a unique diagnosis, condition, or disease that requires a different level of treatment. Each person and each condition has a different level and type of inflammation. Since prednisone is an anti-inflammatory drug, the type and amount of inflammation is the key to knowing when prednisone will work.

If you’re taking prednisone for something like your immune system, like I did, then other factors to consider include what part of the immune system you’re taking it for.

What about breathing? or joint pain?

Factors to consider when taking prednisone:

  1. What you’re taking prednisone for
  2. Dose of prednisone

The factors–what you’re taking for and is it enough?

How long does it take Prednisone to work

Is it a high enough dose? That’s the other factor. The reason you take prednisone determines how long you take prednisone, how high of a dose, and when you can expect it to work. The question–is the dose high enough?–determines how long it takes prednisone to work.

When does prednisone work for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) or Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR)?

If you are taking it for rheumatoid arthritis and you’ve got pain in your joints (your wrist, elbows, shoulders, or knees), is it a high enough dose of prednisone to get you out of your pain?

Is the dose of prednisone enough to let you get out of bed to finally walk again? …to open a can? …to get to the bathroom on your own?

If it’s a high dose, then prednisone usually works pretty quickly for RA or PMR. People say it’ll work that same day.

But lower doses may not help at all, and prednisone may never work if the dose isn’t high enough.

How long does it take prednisone work for COPD?

What about when does prednisone work for breathing; for asthma or COPD?

If you’re taking prednisone to help cope with a COPD flare, it usually works pretty quickly.

But sometimes there are other factors, like if there’s an infection. If you’ve got pneumonia or something like that, the infection might interfere with how quickly prednisone works.

How Long Does it Take Prednisone to Work?

Finally, in addition to considering what you’re using prednisone for, and the dose, there is one more underlying factor to consider. This factor is what you’re measuring; what exactly you are expecting prednisone to do.

If your doctor prescribed it for a COPD flare, prednisone will work quickly to open your airway so you can breathe easier. But it doesn’t cure the COPD. Prednisone doesn’t make the pneumonia go away. It will take a long time for that healing to happen, so it matters which aspect of the condition you’re expecting prednisone to work on.

In a similar way, for rheumatic conditions, prednisone will work quickly to ease the pain. But it won’t immediately cure RA. New research shows that prednisone can help slow the progress of RA joint destruction. But that takes years to work.

So there are factors at play that are really individualized and depend on so many things because prednisone can be used for so many different reasons. I just highlighted a few.

What about You?

For you, when did the prednisone start to work? Was it after just one dose or did it take longer? Let me know in the YouTube video‘s comment section!

Further Reading about How Long Does it Take Prednisone to Work:

Dr. Megan Milne, PharmD, BCACP

Dr. Megan Milne, PharmD, BCACP, is an award-winning clinical pharmacist board certified in the types of conditions people take prednisone for. Dr. Megan had to take prednisone herself for an autoimmune condition so understands what it feels like to suffer prednisone side effects and made it her mission to counteract them as the Prednisone Pharmacist.

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