Prednisone: Maybe I Should Just Hide for a While?
Prednisone is one of those medications that pretty much everyone living with multiple sclerosis (MS) is either overly familiar with or has probably heard of more than a few times. I would compare it to the level of public awareness that surrounds Tylenol. Everyone knows what it is. While I’ve taken a fair amount of Prednisone to help manage my MS over the years, I only just recently finished my first round of this oral steroid to treat something other than MS. While it did its job, it was not all that fun because as most people will tell you, the side effects can be kind of nasty. Since I wasn’t in the middle of an MS flare-up, it was a lot easier for me to tell how the Prednisone affected me and… well, let’s just say I’m now thinking that maybe I need to start sequestering myself when I’m on this stuff.
What is Prednisone?
As always, let’s first make sure we are all on the same page as to what Prednisone is. Prednisone is an oral steroid used to reduce inflammation. Since an MS exacerbation is basically caused by an increase in inflammation, steroids like Prednisone or IV Solu-Medrol are often an effective tool in the fight against an MS relapse. But, of course, MS isn’t the only thing that causes inflammation in the body. Not only do other autoimmune diseases cause inflammation, but so too do things ranging from severe allergies to bodily injuries to infection (to name a few examples). So, obviously this stuff isn’t exclusively used for MS, just like Tylenol isn’t exclusively used for headaches.
I was experiencing severe jaw pain
I recently had to go to urgent care due to severe jaw pain that started to occur when I tried to open and close my mouth. My jaw would “click” and that would be followed by a sudden sharp pain that would literally make me jump. As you can imagine, this made eating nearly impossible. I assume this jaw thing was the result of me clenching my teeth at night and straining whatever muscle controls the jaw. I’m thinking my stress levels have been a tad higher than usual. Anyway, come to find out, this is a really common injury called TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome. TMJ is sometimes treated with a combination of different self-care tactics (such as icing), ibuprofen, muscle relaxers for pain, and Prednisone to reduce the inflammation.
Common Prednisone side effects
Before I go on, it’s worth mentioning a few of the more common side effects associated with Prednisone. Aggression and agitation seem to be pretty common, and I’ve always noticed this in myself when taking Prednisone. Blurred vision, dizziness, and shortness of breath are also a few that I would say I’ve always dealt with, although I’ve always had a hard time knowing if these were side effects of the medication or just my MS acting up. Insomnia is an obvious side effect to anyone who has ever taken this stuff, and while this next one has never been much of an issue for me, many people report an increase in appetite and weight gain.
Steroid side effects compared to MS symptoms
What I really want to note here is how many of the side effects of Prednisone mirror my symptoms of MS. This makes it hard for me to tell if I’m experiencing (for example) blurry vision from the Prednisone or from my MS flaring up. It would kind of be like starting a bunch of new medications all at once and wondering which one is causing some new side effect. The only way to find out is to stop taking one medication at a time until the mystery side effect goes away. Well, I’ve never had the opportunity to eliminate an MS exacerbation from the equation to see which side effects/symptoms go away and which remain since, until now, the only reason I’ve ever had to take Prednisone was because of an MS relapse.
Now, just for reference, I think they had me on 20mg of Prednisone for about a week, which is much lower than the 1,000mg a day I’ve taken for MS exacerbations in the past. Still, it was enough to make a noticeable difference in this TMJ thing as well as cause some of those ever so lovely side effects of steroids. The first thing I noticed (right away) was that my vision became so blurry that I could hardly see what I was typing on the computer. So, even though one of the main reasons I took Prednisone in the past was to treat my blurry vision, it looks like it was (at least momentarily) actually contributing to it. Again, the stuff works great, but it’s pretty nasty.
How steroids affect my mood
But that’s beside my main point. What was concerning about what I learned from this MS-exacerbation-free round of steroids was how it affected my mood. As I just mentioned, I’ve always noticed that Prednisone makes me really irritable. Stupid stuff will make me really angry even though, in the moment, I am entirely aware that I should not be feeling so worked up. Thing is, I always assumed I was so easily aggravated because of a combination of the Prednisone and how miserable I typically felt during an exacerbation. Since I was now taking Prednisone without dealing with the cloud of brain fog and frustration over my body not working the way I wanted it to, I felt like I could see these effects much more clearly. More objectively.
Seeing myself through a new lens
Unsurprisingly, something stupid made me snap, and I stormed off and shut myself in my room to cool off. As I sat there and thought about it, I found myself wondering, “Is this how Prednisone has always affected me since my MS diagnosis in 2010?” I mean, I know Prednisone often caused me to fly off the handle over nothing, but now that I wasn’t really distracted by something like a relapse, my erratic emotions just seemed so much worse than I had always thought they were! So if I wasn’t ever able to see what all that Prednisone was actually doing to me, what did everyone around me think of my seemingly random change of temperament? Did they know that it was probably because of the Prednisone? I’m really not sure, but it definitely made me think that, for the good of everyone around me, maybe whenever I’m about to start a course of oral steroids I should plan on locking myself away and hiding from the world.
How does Prednisone affect you?
What about you? How do steroids like Prednisone affect you? Do you become more difficult for people to be around? Do they understand why this is? What tips and advice do you have for others?
Have you ever tried acupuncture to help alleviate symptoms?