I recently was prescribed prednisone (a corticosteroid) for a nasty poison ivy rash I contracted from my garden, my dog or one of my children. I have horrible allergies and know to avoid contact with anything looking remotely like poison ivy, so the fact I got it without seeing it had me stumped.
I had never been on prednisone before, and had heard from the doctor about the side effects which include irritability, weight gain, night-sweats and low-potassium, among others. I didn’t experience any of those (thank goodness, I’m trying to lose weight, not gain weight). I experienced elevated mood and increased productivity. I wondered why prednisone isn’t prescribed for mood disorders, as I felt better on prednisone than I had felt during four months of taking Prozac® a few years ago.
The morning after I started taking prednisone, I woke up with a crazy urge to go running. I knew something was going on, because I never “feel” like going running. While on the prescription, I cleaned my whole house, did projects I had been putting off, was particularly cheery, and was ultra-productive at work.
I was curious about my reaction to prednisone, especially since I heard from friends and relatives who had experienced adverse reactions to it. They talked about the irritability, headaches, gaining weight, and having thyroid issues. I wanted to roll in poison ivy to be able to stay on this seemingly wonder drug.
It’s a steroid, but not like anabolic steroids which have received a bad name from use and abuse by body builders. Corticosteroids are drugs that are closely related to cortisol, hormones produced by the adrenal gland. Prednisone is typically prescribed for inflammatory conditions, like my acute allergy to urushiol inducing contact dermatitis, and everything from MS to lupus and cancer, and for preventing body organ transplant rejection. It works by suppressing the body’s immune response and reduces swelling and allergic-type reactions.
So in my case, the drug was prescribed to halt my allergic reaction to urushiol, the organic oil toxin found in poison ivy. I was told by the doctor at Urgent care that the blisters from the poison ivy could continue to develop for up to three weeks after initial contact and could take even longer to heal.
Since prednisone could cause a crash-type reaction when stopping the medication, the doctor prescribed on a “weaning” schedule (five pills the first two days, four pills the second two days, and so on until I took one pill for two days, then stopped), to try and limit crashing.
A friend who is a doctor told me, “It is a steroid so long term complications include bone thinning, weight gain, gastrointestinal upset, and hypercortisolism, which may lead to Cushing's syndrome. It depletes Calcium, Folic Acid, Magnesium, Potassium, Selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc.”
Long term use is not an option, and extended use (more than one course of treatment) could result in different effects. The risks drastically out-weigh the benefits for someone who is not stricken with a serious disease. So I’ll have to just stick to my exercise and healthy eating plan for long term happiness.
Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. She founded a women’s group, The Wo-Hoo! Society, in the interests of good friends, networking, and philanthropy; the group meets separately on a monthly basis in Phoenix and Kansas City. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.