What is Prednisone?
Prednisone is a medication that is prescribed for a variety of conditions. There are serious side effects and risks, however, and it should be used with caution. Prednisone is one of the corticosteroid drugs prescribed by medical doctors for inflammatory diseases and allergic reactions. It works by suppressing the immune system, but it may also cause an increase in the patient’s risk of infections. This drug may be medically indicated for rheumatic disorders, allergies, asthma, COPD, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and other diseases. Sometimes it is prescribed for migraines, or even tumors.1
The Side Effects of Prednisone
In the short term, prednisone can increase glucose levels, and cause insomnia and mania, depression, and anxiety. Over the long haul, the medication carries the risk of leading to Cushing’s syndrome, weight gain, osteoporosis, cataracts and glaucoma, and diabetes. Minor side effects can include acne, rash, diarrhea, leg pain, and nervousness, among others. There are also more serious side effects. Patients may have trouble controlling their emotions or trains of thought, their immune system can be severely suppressed, there could also be severe facial swelling, and other problems and infections might occur. If a patient becomes dependent upon the medicine, they can have adrenal suppression. This leads the body to become unable to naturally produce cortisol.
This medication requires careful medical monitoring. There is a special weaning process for patients who no longer need or wish to take the medication. Depending on the amount of time the patient used the drug, the weaning process can take days or even months. “Abrupt withdrawal may lead to an Addison crisis”; therefore, some patients need to take prednisone only every other day, if they are using the medication chronically. Patients who take prednisone should be informed of the risks and potentially dangerous side effects before taking the medication.
For some patients, they are left with few to no other options outside of being prescribed prednisone. However, those who are not entirely reliant on the medication should consider alternative options. Other options could be a lot safer and just as effective for many patients. Actions such as undergoing invasive surgery or committing to chronic, or even short term, consumption of medications is not a decision that should be taken lightly for anyone before they have sought other options.2
Herbal Alternatives to Prednisone
Because of the wide variety of potential side effects of the medication, some patients may look to less risky alternatives to prednisone. Patients may find some of the effects of the medication particularly bothersome. These include as thinning skin, ease of bruising, sexual dysfunction, and extra body fat (including in the face). Other problems that make patients want to avoid the drug include altered moods, insomnia, acne, slow wound healing, headaches, nausea, hypertension, and fluid retention.
Some studies in China and at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York have shown there may be herbal alternatives to prednisone and steroids for patients with asthma. Lig-Zhi, Ku-Shen, and Gan-Cao can be “combined to offer the same positive effects of prednisone without the same negative side effects”. For patients with pain, Dong Quai can be an alternative herb. It is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and it boosts the immune system. Dong Quai may be helpful for patients with headaches, arthritis, and abdominal pain.3
While corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are very powerful and effective, the long-term side effects should be seriously considered. The side effects may be too troublesome. Patients should also remember that they cannot abruptly stop taking prednisone. It is not a medication that may always be simply be tried out for a short time. It is a long-term commitment with risks that the patient must be carefully weaned off of before they are able to discontinue taking it.4 Stopping the medication too quickly can lead to a host of other issues, including an adrenal crisis, with nausea, fatigue, fever, and low blood pressure.5 Therefore, it is important to remember that it can be a serious decision to take—or stop taking—prednisone.
Prednisone and Asthma
Prednisone is a commonly used medication to treat asthma. In its liquid form, prednisolone, the corticosteroid is often used in the short term to help children with asthma. Generally, the weaning process is only needed if the medication has been taken for ten days. Prednisolone for asthmatic children is usually prescribed to be taken for three to five days at a very low dose in order to avoid increasing the risk of side effects or the need for the young patient to be weaned from its use.
There is still the risk of side effects, such as vomiting, changes in mood, and stomach ache. However, these effects should not persist beyond the time period during which the child takes the prednisolone. If the side effects do not stop, and the child begins to experience unexplained bruising, rash, eye pain, or difficulty in vision, then help from a medical care professional should be sought. Prednisone could be a lifesaver, as asthma attacks sometimes escalate to severely dangerous levels, but parents and children alike should still be educated about what potentially dangerous signs to look for.6
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