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Prednisone: The Benefits and Risks for Arthritis and Joint Pain

By    |   Wednesday, 12 August 2015 05:48 PM

Prednisone is a corticosteroid that helps reduce inflammation from arthritis and relieve joint pain.

Arthritic conditions cause the body’s immune system to work against itself, attacking the soft tissues around the joints. Corticosteroids decrease the production of inflammatory chemicals to minimize damage and relieve the pain, says WebMD.

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Prednisone is used in low doses to bring significant relief from pain and stiffness, and may be used in higher doses for short periods to treat severe flare-ups from arthritis.

Medication can be injected into specific areas of the body to treat rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, according to WebMD, which reported that steroid injections to targeted areas are less likely than other forms of drugs to cause serious side effects. The injections can be used in conjunction with oral medication for pain relief and reduction of inflammation. Frequent injections, or more than every three or four months, risk weakening the body’s tissues in the area of treatment.

Prednisone can also be given orally or intravenously. Patients are usually given 5 to 10 mg a day, although higher doses are also prescribed, according to Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Tapering patients down or off the corticosteroid may take a few weeks.

Frequent side effects of prednisone include weight gain and puffiness around the face because of increased fat deposits, Johns Hopkins said. Prednisone could also increase blood pressure and blood sugar, and increase the risk of cataracts.

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Steroid medications might accelerate osteoporosis, a bone-degenerating disease that often affects people in their older years. In these cases, treatment for osteoporosis may occur along with prednisone treatment.

The higher dose of prednisone usually means the greater risk of osteoporosis, Dr. April Chang-Miller wrote in an article for the Mayo Clinic. Along with weakening tissues, prednisone might also weaken bones.

Chang-Miller recommended taking calcium and vitamin D supplements when undergoing treatment with prednisone. Weight-bearing exercises, avoiding alcohol, and not smoking also help to reduce bone loss caused by the steroid treatment.

Optimal treatment for arthritis includes other techniques along with prednisone, such as physical and occupational therapy, a plan to reduce joint stress, and surgery if necessary, according to Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.

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