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Updated April 2019
Also known as glucocorticoids / corticosteroids / cortisone / steroids)
Glucocorticoids (also known as corticosteroids) are hormones that are produced naturally in the body. They are necessary for normal working of the body.
Prednisolone and prednisone are man-made glucocorticoids, which are used to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE/lupus) and other inflammatory disease. Examples of brand names include: Panafcort, Panafcortelone, Predsone, Predsolone, Solone, Sone.
They have a strong anti-inflammatory effect and reduce the swelling and pain in joints and other organs. They do not cure the disease.
They should not be confused with male or female steroid hormones, which are known for their misuse among athletes.
Prednisolone is the most common type of glucocorticoid prescribed. Although prednisone is slightly different, the information contained in this document also applies to that medication.
Prednisolone works very quickly. Within a few days you may notice your pain and stiffness is much better and/or your joints are less swollen.
Prednisolone can be swallowed as tablets or liquid. It is usually taken once or twice a day. Sometimes it is taken every second day. It is usually taken in the morning, with or immediately after food.
Other glucocorticoids can be given by injection into joints, soft tissues or muscles. An injection into a vein (intravenous) may also be given if required.
There are three different strengths of prednisolone tablets: 1mg, 5mg and 25mg. This means the dosage can be adjusted to suit your needs without you having to take large numbers of tablets. It is important to check the strength of the tablets as they look very similar.
The dose depends on the severity of the disease. A high dose may be used initially and then reduced by your doctor as symptoms improve. To minimise the risk of side effects the smallest dose possible will be used.
Sometimes your doctor may increase the dose temporarily when your body is under stress, for example during a surgical procedure or if you have a severe illness such as an infection.
After you have stopped prednisolone your doctor may prescribe it again for a short period in certain situations as described above.
Prednisolone may be used with other arthritis medicines including:
Prednisolone and other glucocorticoids should be taken with caution with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as the risk of side effects such as stomach ulcer is increased.
There are separate information sheets for the medicines mentioned above.
Low dose prednisolone, taken for a few days or even a few weeks, does not normally cause any unwanted side effects.
If prednisolone is taken in high doses or for a long time certain predictable side effects can occur. Some of these improve after prednisolone is stopped. Many can be minimised by giving the lowest effective dose over the shortest possible period of time.
The effects may also be minimised by giving the medicine by injection into the joints or into a muscle.
Many of the above side effects can be managed or prevented by close medical supervision and by following your doctor’s recommendations (see also Precautions, below).