Getting Off Prednisone: Lowering Your Dose to Reduce Withdrawal
Your adrenal glands produce steroid hormones, including glucocorticoids (such as cortisol) that help regulate the inflammatory response inside your body. Prednisone is a synthetic type of glucocorticoid, which provides an even more powerful anti-inflammatory response than cortisol when you experience a severe inflammatory event. Doctors prescribe prednisone for a wide range of medical conditions, from a severe allergic reaction to a chronic autoimmune disorder.
Prednisone works very well at reducing inflammation, but you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the medicine abruptly. Instead, experts recommend weaning off prednisone (also known as “tapering”) to avoid experiencing weakness, nausea, and other symptoms associated with prednisone withdrawal.
Why You Should Use a Prednisone Taper Schedule
When you add prednisone to the body, the adrenal glands sense the increase of anti-inflammatory hormones in the system and may decrease production of your body’s natural glucocorticoids like cortisol. This can lead to a brief deficiency in glucocorticoids when you stop taking prednisone. Glucocorticoids have other roles besides regulating inflammation, including a cardiovascular role; so abruptly withdrawing prednisone from your system can cause symptoms like:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss of appetite
You should call your doctor if you experience any symptoms of prednisone withdrawal while stopping therapy. Rarely, prednisone withdrawal can cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.
To reduce the likelihood of experiencing these symptoms, you should use a taper schedule to gradually decrease the amount of prednisone you’re taking each day. Your doctor will advise you about how to do this, as there is no standard prednisone tapering schedule. The tapering period can vary widely, from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how long you’ve been taking prednisone. Never stop taking prednisone—even by tapering—unless your doctor has told you to do so.
Home Remedies for Prednisone Withdrawal
You can adopt some healthy lifestyle practices to help manage withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol while tapering off prednisone, as these substances affect some of the same body systems that glucocorticoids do
- Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water
- Get plenty of rest
- Manage your stress levels, because cortisol production is influenced by stress
How to Use a Prednisone Taper Pack or Taper the Dosage Yourself
Your doctor may prescribe a prednisone taper pack to help you ease off this powerful steroid medicine. These prepackaged pill sets usually come in blister packs labeled by day. You take all of the pills provided for each day, until all of the pills have been taken. These taper packs often provide several pills for the first day, with a gradually decreasing number of pills until you reach the last day.
If you’ve been taking oral steroids for a long time, a taper pack may not provide a long enough tapering period to help you avoid withdrawal symptoms. In that case, your doctor may give you written instructions regarding what dosage of prednisone to take each day, gradually tapering the dose over the course of a few weeks. In this scenario, you will need to measure out your own dosage of prednisone each day.
In either case, if you experience prednisone withdrawal symptoms, contact your healthcare provider’s office right away for instructions about whether to continue tapering off or not. Never stop the tapering process abruptly, as this might make your symptoms worse or lead to life-threatening complications like a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Many people do not experience side effects when tapering off prednisone. If you do, chances are they will be mild and should go away within a week or two as your adrenal glands restore normal serum levels of cortisol.