And It's About Time There Was Some Support For Cushing's!
Description: Prednisone is a corticosteroid. In contrast to anabolic steroids (used by "bodybuilders"), corticosteroids
are used in inflammatory conditions for their anti-inflammatory effects. They have a rapid onset of action, and profoundly
affect many parts of the immune system as well as most other body systems. Corticosteroids are a cornerstone of treating
most types of vasculitis, and are often used in combination with other immunosuppressive medications.
Side-effects: Many of the side-effects of steroids are predictable. All are related to:
the amount of steroid a patient takes in his/her daily dose, and
the length of time the patient remains on the medication. We emphasize that not all
side-effects occur in all patients, but we list most of the possible ones in order to be fully informative.
One of the numerous potential side-effects of prednisone and other forms of corticosteroid treatment is hirsutism – excessive growth of
body hair. Patients vary in the degree to which this side-effect of steroids occurs. Although some experience minimal hirsutism, the
patient depicted here developed this side effect after taking 10 milligrams of prednisone for a few months.
Weight gain- Usually the most dreaded of steroids’ side-effects, incurred to some degree by nearly all patients who
take them. The amount of weight gain varies from individual to individual. In addition to causing weight gain,
prednisone leads to a redistribution of body fat to places that are undesirable, particularly the face, back of the neck, and abdomen.
Treatment with corticosteroids often results in weight gain and causes the
redistribution of body fat to certain characteristic sites. These sites
include the face, abdomen, and the back of the neck.Accumulation of fat in this area is sometimes referred to as a
Supraclavicular "fat pads" (buffalo hump). These collections of fat at the base of the neck, just above the collarbones, are common in patients on
steroids. They sometimes cause concern among patients if mistaken for lymph nodes or other causes for worry, but will gradually
subside as the prednisone dose is tapered to below 10 milligrams/day.
Glucose intolerance – High blood sugar, or steroid-induced diabetes. This usually resolves when the steroids are
decreased or discontinued.
Hypertension – High blood pressure. This usually improves as the corticosteroid dose is reduced.
Increased susceptibility to infections - Patients are at increased risk for many types of infections, from minor
fungal infections in the mouth ("thrush", caused by Candida) to life-threatening infections such as Pneumocystis carinii
pneumonia (PCP). The higher the steroid dose and the longer the duration of therapy, the greater the risk of infection. The
risk is also increased when patients receive combinations of immunosuppressive medications, such as cyclophosphamide
(cytoxan) and prednisone. The risk of some infections can be greatly reduced by taking specific types of antibiotics
A 50 year-old woman under treatment with prednisone and methotrexate for vasculitis and a concurrent neurologic condition
(myasthenia gravis) developed painful vesicles in her mouth. The vesicles were confirmed by culture to be caused by re-activation of a
Herpes simplex infection, and responded to treatment with acyclovir.
Bone thinning (osteoporosis) - Prednisone may cause thinning of the bones even in people who are not usually at
high risk for osteoporosis (for example: males, young people). In people susceptible to osteoporosis, prednisone may
accelerate the process of bone loss. Fortunately, in the past few years, excellent treatments and preventive measures have
become available for osteoporosis. All patients on prednisone for prolonged periods are candidates for these medicines.
Easy bruising - Prednisone also causes "thin skin". Patients on moderate to high doses of prednisone often notice that
they bruise easily, even with only slight trauma. Prednisone causes "thin skin".
Mood swings/insomnia - Many patients find it difficult to sleep when taking high doses of steroids. Many also find
that they are more irritable than usual. Steroids sometimes even induce depression, which improves when the drug is
decreased or discontinued.
Avascular necrosis of bone- For reasons that are not known, high dose prednisone (for example, greater than 20
milligrams a day) predisposes some patients to joint damage, most often of the hips. In avascular necrosis (or
osteonecrosis, meaning "bone death") of the hip, the part of the leg bone that inserts into the pelvis dies, resulting in pain with weight-bearing
and some loss of joint function. Many patients with avascular necrosis require joint replacements.
Abdominal striae - ("stripes") - Abdominal striae frequently occur in patients who take high doses of steroids for
long periods of time.
Cataracts - Long-term steroid use may lead to cataract development in the eyes, which frequently require surgical
Acne - High dose prednisone predisposes some patients to acne, especially facial acne.
Despite the numerous potential side-effects of corticosteroids, their introduction into patient care 50 years ago
revolutionized the treatment of many diseases, including vasculitis. When used properly, these drugs save lives
and avert threats to the function of important organs.