The scientific terms used with prednisone sure are confusing, huh? One of the most funny is the term “Steroid.” Prednisone is a steroid. You might be wondering: what are steroid side effects?
The tough part is there are a lot of meanings to the word Steroid.
There’s the Arnold Schwarzenegger body builder who might abuse anabolic steroids to get huge muscles.
Then there’s the whole class of structures in our bodies that includes everything from estrogen, the female hormone, to cholesterol. Those are all steroids, too.
Prednisone is a steroid but it is the opposite of the body-building steroids.
The type of steroid that prednisone is includes “catabolic steroid,” “corticosteroid,” “glucocorticoid,” “mineralocorticoid,” “glucocorticosteroid,” and other fancy medical terms.
So it’s hard to find good information online about prednisone and its sister steroids because there’s no one way to search for it!
I created this video and article to explain the top Steroid Side Effects you should know.
I am Dr. Megan, the Prednisone Pharmacist, and I took prednisone for nine months. Today, we will be talking about steroids–but not the kind of steroids that Arnold Schwarzenegger would use. It’s not for bodybuilders. In fact, prednisone actually does the opposite!
Prednisone Muscle Wasting
So, the steroid that I am referring to, prednisone, decreases your muscle mass. It wastes away your muscles. So it’s definitely not something that anybody would use if they wanted to build their muscles and look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Types of Steroids
Prednisone is a steroid in a different class.
- Anabolic Steroids
- Glucocorticoid or Corticosteroids
There are different kinds of steroids. There are the kinds that they use for bodybuilders. Those are called anabolic steroids. That means it’s building up their muscles.
Then there are those like prednisone. Prednisone is a glucocorticoid or corticosteroid. The type of steroid that prednisone is includes “catabolic steroid,” “corticosteroid,” “glucocorticoid,” “mineralocorticoid,” “glucocorticosteroid,” and other fancy medical terms.
Glucocorticoid means it is messing with glucose and other systems in your body to help with inflammation and dealing with stress. It mimics cortisol, the stress hormone your body normally releases when you’re struggling with something extremely stressful, like a tiger coming to chase you down in the forest, or not being able to eat.
Cortisol is a hormone that saves lives and has allowed us as a species to not die in emergencies.
But when we are taking prednisone, it is taking all of those emergency fight or flight, crazy feelings, and making them long-term. Plus the amount is way higher than your body could have ever made on your own.
As a glucocorticoid, prednisone is messing with glucose. That means it causes high blood sugar. The high blood sugar causes weight gain.
Prednisone Steroid Side Effects
People are surprised when their doctor prescribed prednisone, suddenly getting a face round as the moon and a belly big as a pregnant woman, even though there’s no baby in there; you’re not giving birth.
I personally took it and I thought to myself, “I look pregnant, but I’m holding a baby!” I actually had a baby several months before I started taking prednisone, and had finally lost the baby weight right before I started it. Then prednisone brought it all back! I looked pregnant again. I took prednisone for nine months, like a pregnancy! But at the end, I didn’t have the luxury of a brand new baby. Instead, I had lots of side effects.
Pharmacy School Textbook Tests vs. Real Life Side Effects
I went to pharmacy school and I took all these quizzes and tests about each drug. When I was prescribed prednisone, I relied on that book knowledge to guide me on how I’d feel while taking prednisone in real life.
I was surprised when I took prednisone, that what they quizzed us on isn’t necessarily how I felt. And even more surprising was that the little piece of paper that they hand you at the pharmacy, that’s got all the side effects on it, wasn’t what is actually normally felt by the typical prednisone user. I wondered why. I did more research and I found out that prednisone is a super old drug. Prednisone was patented in 1955 and that’s before the FDA required certain studies. There’s no drug company that’s selling prednisone for a high price as a brand-name, patented drug. So nobody’s doing a lot of research on it.
Typical Drug Testing
Nobody’s finding out to determine: what are all of the steroid side effects? Normally a drug these days would be thoroughly tested.
Like the vaccine trials right now, they would test thousands and thousands of people. The drug company would find out that of 10,000 people who took the drug, that 1000 had insomnia.
But that didn’t happen with prednisone. That wasn’t studied. All of this information they just kind of gathered over time. There’s not really any one, single source for it. You’ll get the list from the pharmacy and then you’ll get a list from another source and they don’t actually match.
They don’t overlap perfectly. They’re actually kind of like a Venn diagram. The list doesn’t make any sense. They’re not based on any real data.
And so what I did is I created a list of all of the prednisone side effects. You can find it on my website here and you can search it and find out: is this a side effect of prednisone that somebody has mentioned in the past? Or is it something else like, “do I have an infection?” or “Do I have cancer?” or do I just have a prednisone side effect? You can look it up on there.
Next, I will go through the top steroid side effects that you want to be aware of if you have been prescribed prednisone. When I created that list on my website, I had to take data from this database and that one (each different circle in the image above) and all of this information, compile this list 150 side effects long. It just goes on and on! I’m not going to sit here and read it to you. I’ve done that before. If you want to check it out, you can listen to me read this whole long list. (It’s probably the most entertaining list of medical terms you’ve ever heard).
What are the Steroid Side Effects?
- Emotional Disturbances
- Skin and Hair Changes
- Cushing cushingoid effects
- Weight Gain
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Blocking nutrient absorption
I’m going to hit on the ones that are important, the ones that people wish they’d known and that you might not have been aware of and might not even show up on your list from the pharmacy.
Insomnia is not on several of the top-ranking lists. When you search prednisone side effects on Google, “insomnia” doesn’t show up on a bunch of the side effect lists, even though it’s the #1 tweeted side effect. I couldn’t believe it when I realized that, but it’s not on these lists. And so if you want to know better which are true steroid side effects, check out my Ultimate List.
2. Emotional Disturbances
Along with insomnia is emotional disturbances, roller coasters, crazy psychiatric feelings. What I want you to know is if you feel like you’re kind of going crazy, “it’s not you, it’s the drug!” Prednisone is doing that to you. You do need to get help if it’s making you do things you wouldn’t normally do. There is help available, but just know that you are not a crazy person.
You’re just taking a drug that makes you feel crazy.
The next one is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when you lose bone mass and it makes your bones brittle and fragile so that it can break. And often you can see it when people’s necks get hunched over. Prednisone is the #1 drug that causes osteoporosis.
4. Skin and Hair Changes
I personally lost a third of my hair when I was on prednisone and I had to chop it off. Once it finally grew back, the old part looked really thin, so I had to cut off the thin part.
Prednisone also does weird things to your skin. So if you’re having weird skin and hair changes, then just blame it on prednisone!
5. Cushingoid Steroid Side Effects
Next is the most discouraging. And one that makes you feel like a stranger in your own body. It’s as if you’re wearing somebody else’s body. If you look in the mirror and you’re might wonder, who is that person?
That is the Cushing’s Syndrome or Cushingoid effects (that is the fancy scientific way of saying it). Essentially, Cushing’s Syndrome is when your face gets round, like the moon. You get the moon face. Your cheeks get all round.
I was never so happy to see my smile wrinkles again as when I stopped taking prednisone and lost my moon face. While I was prednisone the wrinkles disappeared. I was on it for nine months. But I’m in remission. After I stopped taking prednisone, my wrinkles came back and the moon face disappeared.
Cushing’s Syndrome Steroid Side Effects
Not only that, along with the moon face you will also get these Cushing’s Syndrome Steroid Side Effects:
Prednisone makes your body lose muscle mass and gain weight, rearrange the fat from normal places into abnormal places like your belly, your neck/back area (they call that the Buffalo hump). The three funny redistribution of fat signs are moon face, buffalo hump and pregnant belly, but no baby.
“Prednisone is a glucocorticoid because it’s messing with the glucose (sugar) balance in your body.”
If you are being chased by a tiger, that’s awesome that your body just released a whole bunch of sugar so that your muscles have the energy to run away. But not if you’re just fighting an autoimmune condition, or you just want to be able to open a bottle with your hands afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, or some other great reason to take prednisone.
You don’t want high blood sugar. And so that’s a terrible side effect that happens because that high blood sugar leads to weight gain and it leads to potential diabetes!
7. Cardiovascular Disease
High blood sugar from prednisone also leads to other potential problems like cardiovascular disease. Prednisone can cause high blood pressure. Prednisone can cause pretty much every heart condition you’ve ever heard of, plus it can worsen the heart disease you may already have.
Whenever you’re on prednisone, you should definitely get these things checked out. Definitely go and schedule an eye checkup while you’re taking prednisone longer than a couple of weeks.
Prednisone can mask the symptoms of an infection. Maybe your fever won’t be so high. Maybe you won’t feel like you’re sick. Perhaps you won’t get flushed and red. Or maybe you just won’t even know that you’re getting an infection until it’s there.
Or you can get crazy weird infections because prednisone is an immunosuppressant. You might get thrush, which is a fungal infection in your mouth and your tongue turns white and your throat, and it’s miserable. There are things that we can do to help you. But I just want you to know that it can happen.
These things all can happen. They don’t happen to everybody, but pretty much everybody who takes prednisone gets at least one side effect. And like I mentioned, there are 150 on here.
10. Blocking absorbing nutrients
Prednisone interferes with proper nutrition. That includes changes in electrolytes, fluids, vitamins, minerals. Prednisone is directly blocking your body’s ability to absorb things like calcium. That directly leads to osteoporosis, right?
It’s making you deplete things like potassium and magnesium that you really need to stay healthy. Prednisone is also making you hold on to things like salt so that you’re getting all swollen and feel awful. You’re getting water weight.
Prednisone Checklist for Combating Steroid Side Effects
I created a Prednisone Checklist. On here, I went through the top side effects that people experience when they’re on prednisone. And then I gave you ways to cope: things that you can do on your own and things you probably should get your doctor’s help with because maybe you need a prescription or maybe they need to check, you know, your eyes or do an x-ray or something. But at least you’ll know what those things are once you get this checklist.
Not only that, but I also give you my top tips of what you can do to feel better while you’re on prednisone. So if you have been wondering, “what are the side effects of this steroid, prednisone?” Now you know, and you have more information to help you cope.
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