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What is Prednisone? - Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Prednisone is a medication that can be a life saver, but it can also be extremely dangerous in some instances. This lesson describes prednisone, its major uses, and some of its potential side effects.

What Is the Immune System?

There are drugs that can stop diarrhea. There are drugs that can stop your heart. There are drugs that can stop your breathing. And there are drugs that can stop your immune system.

The immune system is a collection of cells, tissues, and biomolecules that work to defend your body against abnormal entities trying to harm it, including viruses, bacteria, and even cancer cells. You're certainly familiar, at least somewhat, with the immune system if you've ever heard of the process of inflammation or white blood cells.

Both of those are parts of the immune system. And both of their actions can be suppressed with a medication called prednisone. We'll go over this medication's uses and side effects in this lesson.

What Is Prednisone?

Prednisone is a medication that belongs to a class of drugs called corticosteroids. Specifically, there is a subclass of corticosteroids, called glucocorticoids, of which prednisone is a part. A famous glucocorticoid you've probably heard of is called hydrocortisone, the one found in many over-the-counter anti-itch creams for bug bites and the like. Both hydrocortisone and prednisone belong to the glucocorticoid class of medication.

Prednisone Uses

Actually, that gives us the perfect segue to prednisone's general uses. Like hydrocortisone, prednisone can be used in relatively small amounts to suppress part of the inflammatory system. The inflammatory system is responsible for things like the itchiness you feel after a mosquito bite or the pain, heat, and swelling associated with a joint injury. Prednisone is thus used as an anti-inflammatory medication.

The other major use of prednisone is as an immunosuppressant, or an immune system suppressant. This term implies that prednisone suppresses more than just part of the inflammatory system.

Some specific real-world conditions that prednisone is used to treat include:

  • Arthritis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Various types of allergies
  • Psoriasis
  • Cancer

And many others!

Prednisone Side Effects

Given all that you've just learned, you might be thinking: well, why not just give the person an immunosuppressive dose of prednisone all the time and just be done with it? Why even have an anti-inflammatory dose if the immunosuppressive dose is anti-inflammatory as well? Glad you asked.

Whenever possible, prednisone is given at the anti-inflammatory dose as opposed to the immunosuppressive dose. That's because while both types of doses include side effects, the side effects, when they do occur, tend to be far more severe at immunosuppressive doses than at anti-inflammatory doses.

The side effects associated with prednisone include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Changes in mood
  • Headache and/or dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Acne
  • Increased appetite and/or weight gain
  • Slow wound healing
  • Increased number, frequency, and/or severity of infections
  • Pain around the stomach area. This can point to one of many different issues, like the formation of dangerous sores in the digestive tract or the inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Black/tarry stools and/or coffee ground looking vomit. Sometimes the vomit and/or stool contains frank (very bright red) blood.
  • Vision problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart trouble

If you experience any of these, particularly the last six bullet points, seek professional licensed medical help without delay!

Lesson Summary

Prednisone is a corticosteroid of the glucocorticoid class that's used to suppress the immune system. The immune system is a collection of cells, tissues, and biomolecules that help defend your body against things like viruses and bacteria.

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