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Prednisone Withdrawal Symptoms: How Long Do They Last?

Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid drug that is used to treat a variety of conditions including: asthma, adrenal insufficiency, Cron’s disease, inflammatory diseases, some types of cancer, hives, nephrotic syndrome, lupus, Meniere’s disease, and hives. It is also used to help with organ transplants by preventing bodily rejection to the new organ. This is a drug that is also used to help with severe migraine headaches, leukemia, lymphoma, and various types of tumors. It works by replacing steroids that are naturally produced by the body.

Essentially this is a drug that mimics your body’s natural hormones produced from the adrenal glands. When prescribed in significant doses, Prednisone works to help suppress inflammation. In the event that a person’s immune system is attacking its own tissues (as is the case with autoimmune diseases), this drug can help reduce activity by suppressing immune system functioning. It affects the “HPA” or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis when taken longer than 7 days.

Although Prednisone can be a life saving drug when used to treat certain conditions, others that are on it for a less-significant condition may be extremely unhappy with the drug’s side effects. If you can no longer cope with the side effects as a result of Prednisone use, it may be time to withdraw. Once you have spoken with your doctor about withdrawal and have made up your mind, you will want to educate yourself on the potential symptoms that you may experience upon discontinuation.

Factors that influence Prednisone withdrawal include:

When it comes to any medication, there are factors that influence the severity of withdrawal. Various factors that will play a role in determining how difficult the withdrawal process is include: time span, dosage, individual physiology, and whether you quit cold turkey or tapered. If you experience a very severe withdrawal, it is likely due to one or more of these factors.

1. Time Span

How long have you taken Prednisone? In general the longer you are on this particular steroid, the longer it’s going to take your body to readjust to functioning without it. If you are on it for longer than 2 weeks, it can affect your adrenal glands’ ability to produce cortisol. Therefore your body and brain become dependent on the Prednisone for everyday functioning when taken for an extended period. If you are only on this drug for a couple weeks, you should have a much easier time coping with the withdrawal compared to someone on it for months and/or years.

2. Dosage (2 mg to 80 mg)

Since this drug is used to treat a variety of conditions, the dose that you are taking will depend on the condition that you are treating. The maximum recommended dose per day is 80 mg. Most people are taking somewhere between 2 mg and 30 mg per day. In any event, the greater the dosage you take for an extended period of time, the more severe your withdrawal symptoms will likely be. Someone that is on a very low maintenance dose of Prednisone should have a much easier (and quicker) time withdrawing compared to someone who is on the maximum recommended daily dose.

3. Individual Factors

Since this is a powerful corticosteroid, it likely will result in withdrawal symptoms in nearly everyone that took it for an extended period of time. However, the severity of those symptoms can vary depending on the individual. People that were on very high doses for a long term may have a very severe physiological response upon discontinuation, while others may have less of a reaction.

Just know that what you experience may be more or less severe than someone else – as everyone’s situation is different. One person may recover from their withdrawal within a few weeks, while another may experience aches and pains for months following their last dose of Prednisone. The recovery time varies among different individuals.

4. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering

It is never recommended to quit taking Prednisone “cold turkey.” It is thought that if you quit taking this drug cold turkey from a relatively high dose, it could result in potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If you were on Prednisone for an extended period of time, your body likely has become fully dependent on this drug for functioning and providing cortisol.

Since your body has stopped naturally producing cortisol, stopping Prednisone cold turkey can be a recipe for disaster. Why? Because your adrenal glands may not be able to kick back in and produce cortisol. Therefore it is important to gradually “wean” off of this drug to give your adrenal glands some time to pick back up with natural production.

In order to prevent doing damage and or experiencing a nasty cold turkey withdrawal, some have recommended reducing the dosage of your medication by 5 mg every 7 days. If you are unsure about how to taper, be sure to talk with your doctor and voice any concerns you have. If you were on Prednisone for a very short term (i.e. 7 days or less), it is alright to quit cold turkey.

Prednisone Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities

Below are some common withdrawal symptoms associated with taking Prednisone. Recognize that these are some symptoms that you may experience upon discontinuation from this particular drug. Also understand that you may not experience every symptom listed below and that the intensity of withdrawal will likely differ based on individual circumstances.

  • Abdominal pain: Many people notice intense abdominal pain when they first stop taking Prednisone. This may be in the form of intense stomach aches and/or burning sensations throughout the stomach.
  • Anxiety: Many people report depression, but a lesser reported symptom is that of anxiety. You may feel somewhat nervous and/or have relatively intense anxiety during withdrawal. It is thought that this is a result of hormonal changes and HPA functioning.
  • Body aches: Many people report severe body aches when they stop taking this drug. These aches may last for weeks following your last dose of the drug. If they become too intense, you should consider tapering more gradually.
  • Decreased appetite: Since Prednisone is associated with significant increases in appetite, when you stop taking it, you will likely notice a major decrease in appetite. You may have constantly felt hungry while on it, but when you quit taking it, your appetite will significantly drop off.
  • Depression: Another common symptom to experience upon discontinuation is that of depression. You may feel very depressed in conjunction with significantly low levels of energy. This is in part due to lack of stimulation. Your adrenal stores need to build themselves back up for you to feel normal. Just know that your brain and body will eventually fully heal as time passes.
  • Diarrhea: Some people report diarrhea when they first come off of this drug. If you are experiencing this, be sure to pick up some Imodium (available over the counter) – it should help ease this particular symptom.
  • Dizziness: This is a common withdrawal symptom from any drug. If you feel dizzy, just know that it should go away within a few weeks. The most intense dizziness should subside after the drug has been out of your system for a week.
  • Fatigue: Most people end up having to deal with extreme levels of fatigue and low energy when they quit this drug. If you feel fatigued, just know that it is a result of your body withdrawing from a drug that it has depended on for functioning for a long period of time. Additionally you no longer have adequate amounts of cortisol to provide the body with energy. It will take some time before these homeostatic levels are reestablished.
  • Fever: Some individuals report having a fever when they stop this drug. This is your body’s way of trying to readapt to functioning without Prednisone. The fever should not last more than a week or so after your last dose. If it persists, be sure to consult your doctor and/or another medical professional and consider a more gradual taper.
  • Headaches: Since this drug actually helps many people with severe headaches, coming off of it may result in even more extreme headaches than initially experienced. Some individuals report constant headaches, while others report full-blown migraines during withdrawal.
  • HPA Changes: Anyone who has taken this drug for an extended period of time will exhibit changes in their HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis). In other words, the adrenals are no longer producing sufficient levels of cortisol because they have become accustomed to receiving the Prednisone. Therefore even if you gradually taper, it will take your body awhile to get its natural production of cortisol back up.
  • Joint pain: It is extremely common to feel pretty intense joint pain when you stop this steroid. This joint pain is caused by lack of natural cortisol production. In some cases it could be due to inflammation during withdrawal. Avoid excess physical stress and activity until the pain subsides.
  • Low blood pressure: Some individuals experience blood pressure drops when they discontinue this drug. Although it increases blood pressure while taking it, many people experience rapid reductions if they discontinue too quickly. In some cases if blood pressure gets too low, it can lead to dizziness and fainting. Be sure to monitor your blood pressure when you quit this drug.
  • Low blood sugar: Many people experience low blood sugar when they come off of a corticosteroid like Prednisone. You may want to monitor your blood sugars when you discontinue and keep some sweets around in the event that it dips out of the ordinary.
  • Mood swings: People feel fatigued, low energy, and have depression as a result of their withdrawal. It is no wonder that some individuals experience mood swings and/or changes when they quit taking this drug. Just know that these should stabilize when the body heals.
  • Muscle soreness: Some people notice muscle soreness and/or pain that does not go away for an extended period of time. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take some sort of over-the-counter pain relief to help yourself cope with this symptom.
  • Nausea: You may feel extremely nauseated when you originally stop taking this drug. The intense nausea should only last for a few days and then gradually improve. Assuming your doctor conducted a gradual taper off of Prednisone, the nausea should not be long-lasting.
  • Shaking: Many people have reported uncomfortable “shaking” in the limbs including the hands and feet.  This is not as common of a symptom, but one that has been reported that can make life uncomfortable for awhile.
  • Skin rash: In some cases a person may develop a skin rash when they first quit taking Prednisone. Some hypothesize that burning and/or itching skin could be a result of nerve irritation beneath the skin. If you are experiencing a skin rash or irritation, just know that it’s likely from the withdrawal.
  • Suicidal thoughts: When you first quit taking this drug, you may notice that your depression becomes overwhelming to the point of triggering suicidal thoughts. If you feel suicidal at all during withdrawal, make sure you talk to a professional about it. Just know that as your adrenal stores build back up, your depression will gradually subside and your thinking will return to normal.
  • Vomiting: Some people report vomiting when they stop Prednisone. This vomiting is usually a result of tapering too quickly and not giving your body a chance to gradually adapt to functioning without the drug. If you are vomiting, it could just be that you are hypersensitive to withdrawal and/or are withdrawing too quickly.
  • Weakness: It is common to feel muscle weakness and an overall sense of malaise when you first come off of this drug. It should take your body a few weeks and/or months to fully recover from feeling very week and achy. This is just your body’s way of reacting to functioning without a drug that it has received constantly over an extended term.
  • Weight loss: Individuals that are on Prednisone for the long term tend to pack on a pretty good amount of weight. Obviously the amount of weight you gain will be based on your individual circumstances. Most people notice that they begin to lose weight a few weeks after they have fully discontinued this drug.

Note: It is thought that Prednisone stays in your system for less than 24 hours after your last dose – meaning it has a short half-life.  Discontinuation symptoms are thought to be a result of the body attempting to recalibrate itself to functioning without the Prednisone.

How long do Prednisone withdrawal symptoms last?

The time it takes you to fully withdraw from Prednisone will depend on individual circumstances. In most cases, the withdrawal symptoms should clear up within 3 to 4 weeks after your last dose. The half life of Prednisone is only 1 hour, but most people report post-acute withdrawal symptoms lasting well after the drug is cleared from the body.  A full recovery can take anywhere from a week or two (lower doses) to several months.

If you are experiencing pretty extreme pain as a result of the withdrawal, be sure to take some over-the-counter pain relief. In addition to OTC pain relief, most people recommend increasing the amount of salt and sugar that you eat. This is because when you stop taking Prednisone, your body usually has low blood sugar and low blood pressure.  If your withdrawal symptoms persist for an extended period of time and/or are so severe that you cannot function, it is likely that you withdrew too quickly.

Anytime a person is on 5+ mg of Prednisone for 7 to 14 days, sudden discontinuation can result in an adrenal crisis. Work closely with your doctor, follow guidelines, get plenty of rest, and lay low as your body and mind recover. Eventually you will return to normal functioning once your body and brain readjust to functioning without steroids.  It should be noted that some people report “Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency” as a result of taking corticosteroids like Prednisone.

In this event, it has taken people 12 to 24 months before they experience full “recovery” back to homeostasis.  As was mentioned, the longer you are on the drug, the more gradual the tapering process should be and the longer you should expect withdrawal symptoms to persist following your last dose.  As long as you work with your doctor and withdraw VERY gradually, you should be able to experience a full recovery.  If you have experienced withdrawal from Prednisone or are currently going through withdrawal, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.

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{ 633 comments… add one }
  • Wendy February 15, 2018, 9:33 pm

    I hope this is helpful for those withdrawing from 4mg-6 day Medrol taper pack for a severe allergic reaction. I was prescribed Hydroxyzine 25 mg every 8 hours as needed for itching. It works much better than Benadryl. It helped me so much to relax and sleep. Apparently it is also prescribed for anxiety. Wishing you smooth restoration to health and balance!

  • Bonnie February 12, 2018, 7:17 pm

    I was put on prednisone for temporal arteritis, 60 mg a year ago last March. I came down gradually off of that. had another biopsy on my other temple and put back on another 60 mg of prednisone. Come to find out I have a type of Hodgkins lymphoma called Waldenstroms.

    I have had 4 infusions and the Waldenstroms is better, but am having terrible aches and pains in my arms and legs. I am down to 2 and a half mg of prednisone. I know I have to wait for my adrenal glands to wake up but very frustrating. Anyone have any ideas how to help the pain? I have tried Tylenol and Ibuprofen together – doesn’t seem to help. Thanks.

  • Nicole January 17, 2018, 11:27 pm

    I was on 120mg of prednisone for 30 days before surgery, I have Crohn’s. The taper was done in a week have decreasing half everyday for 7days. By the time I left the hospital I had really bad edema, headaches, blurry vision… many of these symptoms I had throughout the entire month. I thought the weaning was a bit fast considering.

    I was on 40mg the taper was 10 days or more. My two week check up after surgery I started having joint pain. I attributed it to the steroid so I told me GI doc. They decreased my humira back to weekly and mentioned that it could be an effect of the steroids. They also advised me to go to my PCP just to make sure I don’t have RA or something of the sort.

    I’m not two month post op and I still have significant joint pain. I haven’t gotten check for RA cause I know it’s just gonna be a bunch of test I can’t afford T this moment with all the bills coming in from the surgery. So, I’m curious to know what you think?

    Do you think it’s possible for my joint pain to be caused by the long term high dose steroid and the fast wean? If so, how long do you think it may last? Come to think of it I do still have night sweats which is something I only ever had while on steroids, low or high dose. Thanks for your input!

  • JDUB January 11, 2018, 8:35 am

    I was given 60mg of Prednisone a day for 15 days and then 12mg a day of Dexamethasone for 7 days for a back injury. The doctor stopped me abruptly which I didn’t realize was a problem. 24 hours later I started developing sores/boils/rash/hives on my face and chest.

    They tried to say I had Folliculitis and after 16 days of 2 doses of antibiotics with little to no help and 2 negative lab cultures of my skin for infection, I’m not sure what to do. Anyone have a suggestion? Thank you.

  • Miriam December 24, 2017, 5:43 pm

    I’ve been on a tapering dose. Started out at 15 mg, down to 7mg now. Been on it since August. I’ve had unusual angry outbursts that I could not control. Got oral thrush…very painful, swollen legs, weight gain even though I had NO APPETITE WHATSOEVER, elevated blood sugar, and grew facial hair. Can’t wait to get off this crap. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease itself.

  • Jennifer December 24, 2017, 2:26 am

    I was on 10mg of prednisone daily for about 8 weeks for Ankolysing Spondylitis. My Dr. tapered me off correctly but ever since I stopped them last week I can barely function. I have been extremely fatigued, joint pain, cold sweats and feel like I have the flu but no fever. Does anyone know if this is normal?

  • Trish June 8, 2017, 4:59 pm

    It’s crazy reading all these comments of what it’s done to people. It’s really got me wondering now. I’ve been on Prednisone off and on for as long as I can remember for mostly poison ivy, and the occasional pneumonia. I already have lots of medical problems that contain a lot of the symptoms most of you are saying, so I would have never even thought or known it could be coming from the steroids.

    I would have just automatically thought they were just regular symptoms from my other problems, but now I wonder if I got these other problems from the steroids… not sure if there’s even a way to find out. Unfortunately I’m highly allergic to poison ivy. I can literally get it just from it blowing in the air, and if I don’t take care of it right away, I will look like I have third degree burns all over me – yes it’s that bad…

    And it loves to get on and in my mouth first, causing breathing problems and such. Sadly Prednisone has been the only thing that has helped with it… and I have tried basically everything! And it has been the only thing that opens up my lungs when they close up… so in my case I guess it’s worth it.

  • Justin Henderson April 12, 2017, 9:24 am

    I have been taking prednisone for years now and I hate that I have to continue to take it I’ve experienced the weight gain, depression, etc. and is frustrating. I went through withdrawal symptoms yesterday which were severe migraine, weakness, and sweating. My body is now dependent on this medication and I hope one day I can wean off properly.

  • scott March 25, 2017, 7:42 pm

    I was put on prednisone for 14 days for sinus infection. I’ve been having severe dizziness and headaches. I called the pharmacist and he said it was ok to just stop taking it. I cant get in touch with my doctor until Monday. Yesterday was suppose to start the half pills to taper off I suppose. I didn’t take it yesterday nor this morning and now I can hardly stand up.

    My vision is so blurry that I’m almost blind and I have an extreme headache. I’m so pissed off with these doctors who prescribe this stuff. All this for a sinus infection? I can’t afford to be bedridden like this. I have to much to take care of. Is it possible to take something for my headaches while on this? I just took a half pill to at least get it back into my system since apparently it shuts your adrenals off. What a nightmare.

  • lindsey March 21, 2017, 1:11 pm

    I have had both sides of steroids now. The bad doctors that over prescribe them causing me to having Cushing’s. After winning that battle which took me somewhere between 1 & 1/2 – 2 yrs after finally figuring out what had been done, I felt great I was closing in on feeling like 80 to 90% back to normal. Then I go in for a normal ENT surgery, which I’ve had like 6 in the last 10 yrs so nothing big here.

    Well my ENT knew my Endo info and still gave me a large amount of steroids during the surgery which caused my Addison’s-like condition. I’ve been told I’m lucky to be alive. I should have been dead since this dropped my levels of cortisol to a 0.3 from my 10.0 pre-surgery. If I hadn’t been moved up on the calendar I should be dead. With secondary there seem to be no signs that you’re crashing. I stopped my steroids about 30 hrs ago.

    I wear the bracelet and carry my emergency meds that you’re only given about 10 mins to inject (my understanding). Well anyway, I’m running late to another doctor’s appointment for allergy shots. I hope someone found my info helpful. My suggestion is if you are like me and figure out that you are hypersensitive to steroids – make sure you list it as a allergy on your medical records.

    If my body heals from this, I will be certain to list “NO ROIDS” on my medical documents. It’s amazing how it took someone a few seconds to nearly end my life and certainly cost me years of health I will never get back.

  • Darlene March 17, 2017, 5:47 pm

    My daughter was prescribed 10 mg prednisone. She was to take 6 pills the first day, tapering down to one each day. She was prescribed this for a bad cold with some chest congestion. She was a full-time student and worked a part time job. By mid week of her prescription she started experiencing lots of energy and lack of sleep.

    As the days went on she was experiencing severe mood swings and sleepless nights which led to anxiety and a visit to the ER. At the ER I explained that she was prescribed prednisone and was experiencing some bad side effects and insomnia. They checked her labs, vital signs, etc, told us she was fine and dismissed us.

    After that she stayed awake for 3 nights in a row and on the last day was in complete paranoia, she was unaware of what was going on! When we got to her the paramedics had her. Again she was taken to the ER and was admitted and stayed in the hospital for an extreme intolerance to prednisone. It has been over 3 weeks since she took the last of the prednisone and she is still not back to herself.

    They have her on some antipsychotic medications which too have side effects that are scary. She has never had any mental health issues and was living a very productive life as a college student. It’s looking like she will now have to withdraw from school and quit her job. This has been devastating to her and our family. Has anyone ever heard of such a reaction to prednisone? I’m so concerned about her future. This has completely turned her world upside down!

  • Judy March 15, 2017, 3:52 pm

    What an excellent article! I am trying to get off prednisone after seven years treatment for autoimmune disease. I knew many of the physiological side effects, but did not realize that depression could be a steroid withdrawal side effect. Your article has helped me greatly to understand and thus to be able to cope with the mental health aspect of what I am going through.

    I rarely experience depression since I have been born again so it was very troubling to suddenly be sad and hopeless. To test the theory, I took a dose of fast acting hydrocortisone and the depression disappeared rapidly. But I would rather have temporary depression (and other side effects) than to stay on prednisone.

    So now it is back to the tapering and back to the depression, but this time I am armed with truth. I shall consider myself in a chrysalis for a short time and fully expect to emerge as a butterfly when I have fully completed the withdrawal.

  • Ruth Doe March 8, 2017, 5:05 pm

    Hi guys. I too have been suffering from steroid withdrawal. I was on steroid suppositories for 5 years for ulcerative proctitis. Although these are not as strong as oral steroids they still get into the blood stream if taken long term. I just stopped taking them as I was no longer bleeding (hallelujah!). However 2 weeks later the symptoms started – extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, cramps, night sweats. Couldn’t work as a result.

    My doctor realized I was having withdrawal symptoms and has started me back on 15mg prednisone daily to taper by 2.5mg a week for next 4 weeks. Hopefully this will kick-start my body into working again and the slow taper will minimize withdrawal… feeling hopeful.

  • Michael March 8, 2017, 12:48 am

    5+ years on 5 mg of Prednisone QD. Became aware of symptoms developing at this level. Recently started slow taper of 1 mg a day decrease per month. Will take 5 months, if all goes to plan. Already struggle with trying to tell the difference between side effect that led to taper from those as a result of the taper. They are essentially the same. After restarting a few times I cut back to 0.5 mg tapper. Hope this works. First day down is good but then next day side effects again. Cold turkey is out of the question. A test of patience.

  • Kim March 7, 2017, 12:03 am

    I was prescribed prednisone three years ago for polymyalgia rheumatica. Weaned off by last summer. I didn’t have an appetite, was tired, and lost 10 pounds in 6 weeks. I was in excruciating pain again.

    I thought it was a fluke. I went to the doc in August and she put me back on it WITHOUT telling me I was experiencing withdrawal. I am now weaned again and experiencing the same symptoms. I thought I was crazy, but found this website.

    First, why don’t the “experts” tell you this? Second, how do you survive without it? I’m taking Curcumin and Glucosamine, Aloe Vera juice, and an anti-inflammatory mixture my Naturopath prescribed, but still suffering. Your comments help me to know that I’m not alone. Thank you.

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