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The Immune System and Prednisone

Prednisone, the corticosteroid prescribed for joint pain (as from arthritis) asthma, allergies and certain cancers, has an immune-suppressant affect that can leave patients vulnerable to infections, but can also save lives if properly administered.

Prednisone is prescribed for conditions which require the administration of an anti-inflammatory medication in order to be manageable. It mimics the cortisol-producing function of the adrenal glands. Cortisol not only represses inflammation, it is also considered a "stress hormone" which is released in abundance when a person is either ill or experiencing anxiety. Prednisone is often prescribed for people with asthma, severe environmental allergies, arthritis or Crohn's disease.

While it may seem that immune-suppressing properties would be the last qualities anyone would want in a medication, there are some conditions that require immune system management.

Patients who have recently had an organ transplant could be put on immune-suppressants such as Prednisone so that their immune system doesn't reject the new organ. Likewise, certain illnesses might cause the body to read certain organs as foreign invaders and attack them as they would an infection. For conditions such as these, corticosteroids such as Prednisone are prescribed.

However, the body could be susceptible to infections during the course of Prednisone, particularly when it is prescribed in high doses. Possible complications could arise, including the inability for wounds to heal quickly, the development of cataracts, osteoporosis and joint damage.

Because of the immune-suppressant qualities of Prednisone, as well as the disbursal of a corticosteroid, there are some possibilities of side effects when the drug is given at high doses. These side effects can include:


Some severe side effects are not uncommon, and these include:


Some patients have been known to develop a dependency on Prednisone, due to the fact that it suppresses the adrenal glands. Because adrenal function is severely compromised during a long course of treatment, a patient must be very careful when decreasing the dosages. This must be medically supervised in order to avoid adrenal crisis and all of the attendant symptoms, which include severe nausea, shock and vomiting. If Prednisone was only prescribed for a few days, then the tapering might only last one week. However, aggressive Prednisone treatment might require a gradual lowering of the dosage that could last for months or even years.

Before submitting to Prednisone treatments, explore alternate options with your doctor to make sure that Prednisone is the right course of treatment for you.