Prednisone tablets are synthetic corticosteroid medications available only by prescription. They are used to suppress the immune system or treat inflammatory conditions. These tablets come in several different dosage strengths, including 2.5 milligram (mg), 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg, and 50 mg tablets. The strength of prednisone tablet prescribed for a given condition depends on the goals of treatment; dosage may vary throughout treatment.
The synthetic corticosteroids found in prednisone tablets mimic the action of hydrocortisone, a chemical produced by the body’s adrenal glands. Prednisone tablets can have many effects on the body, but are most commonly used for their anti-inflammatory properties. They are used to treat conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, arthritis, and some types of skin rashes. Prednisone tablets are also used to suppress the immune system in autoimmune diseases or to prevent the immune system from rejecting a transplanted organ.
Dosages are typically adjusted throughout treatment to maintain the lowest possible effective dose. A patient may start out taking a 50-milligram tablet each day, then gradually taper down until he or she is using only a 2.5-milligram tablet. Another common method of dosing is to prescribe the prednisone tablets in one dose and instruct the patient to take several the first day and decrease the dose by one pill each day until the prescription runs out. This eliminates the need to prescribe several different dosages and alleviates potential confusion over which pill is which.
Common side effects of prednisone tablets include headache, dizziness, sleep disturbances, and changes in mood or personality. Thin, fragile skin, increased hair growth, and muscle weakness may also occur. The tablets also decrease the healing time of cuts and bruises due to their affect on the immune system. The risk of side effects increases with higher doses or with prolonged use of the medication.
Serious, potentially dangerous reactions can also occur with the use of prednisone tablets. These require immediate medical attention. Potential risks include seizures, uncontrollable tremors in the hands, numbness in the extremities, and irregular heartbeat. Swelling in any part of the body, particularly the face, throat, or stomach area, also requires immediate medical attention. Some patients may experience severe psychological effects, including depression and a loss of connection to reality.
Prolonged use of prednisone tablets can damage the adrenal glands, causing them to shrink and stop producing cortisol. When the medication is stopped abruptly, the glands are unable to prepare by producing enough cortisol to prevent withdrawal symptoms, which can include vomiting and shock. Long-term use of cortisone tablets can also cause necrosis of the hip joints, a painful and potentially fatal condition.
Patients prescribed cortisone tablets should take the medication exactly as directed by their physicians. Most doctors recommend taking the medication at the same time each day. Using the medication as directed may help decrease the risk of potentially serious side effects and speed up recovery time.