Prednisone and Weight Gain

Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid that is widely used for treating certain autoimmune disorders and inflammatory diseases. People taking this medication can experience significant weight gain over a period of time. This HealthHearty article discusses how this drug can cause weight gain, and how this side effect can be managed with lifestyle and dietary modifications.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Feb 21, 2018
If you are taking prednisone, then don't discontinue it all of a sudden. The adrenal glands cease to produce enough cortisol if prednisone is taken continuously for more than 7 days. So, when this drug is discontinued, the adrenal glands need time to resume the production of cortisol. Prednisone belongs to the family of corticosteroid drugs, and is similar to the hormone cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. It is basically used as an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drug. In higher dosage, it is used for treating certain types of cancer as well.

This medication can be taken orally, or it can be administered through intravenous and intramuscular injections. It can cause several side effects, though all side effects are not experienced by all patients. The severity of the side effects depends on the dosage and the duration for which the drug is taken. One of the most common side effects of prednisone is weight gain, which is experienced to some extent by almost all individuals taking this drug. Here is a brief discussion about the uses of prednisone, why it causes weight gain, and how this side effect can be managed.

Prednisone Uses
As mentioned already, prednisone is an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drug. As an immunosuppressant, it can affect the immune system and suppress its actions. This drug is highly effective in reducing inflammation. Therefore, it is mainly prescribed for treating inflammatory diseases like asthma, severe allergies, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), severe contact dermatitis, uveitis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease. It is also used for treating pancreatitis, severe migraine and cluster headaches, kidney diseases, multiple sclerosis, tumors, and certain types of cancer like acute lymphoblastic leukemia, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma.
Prednisone and Weight Gain
The weight gain that results from the intake of prednisone is basically caused by fluid retention, an increase in appetite, and reduced physical activity. This drug causes fluid retention by inducing the body to reabsorb more sodium and excrete potassium. When the level of sodium increases in the body, the kidneys absorb more water leading to water or fluid retention. Fluid retention can cause unwanted weight gain and bloating.

Secondly, this medication can increase appetite, which in turn can increase the total calorie intake. This can eventually result in undesirable weight gain. Finally, prednisone is used for the treatment of some painful, inflammatory conditions like arthritis, which can limit movement and the amount of physical activity.

Additionally, this drug can cause the redistribution of fats, or accumulation of fats in certain specific areas of the body, like the face, back of the neck, and the abdomen. The accumulation of excess fats in certain parts of the body can make even a small amount of weight gain more noticeable.

Apart from weight gain, this drug can cause several other side effects, especially if it is used for a long time. To minimize the side effects associated with corticosteroid drugs, physicians usually prescribe the lowest effective dosage of the drug for the shortest possible duration.
Managing Weight While Using Prednisone
A great majority of individuals taking this steroid drug experience weight gain, which is one of the most annoying side effects associated with prednisone. However, this side effect can be managed to a great extent with the help of the following methods.

Stick to a Low-sodium, High-potassium Diet
A low-sodium diet can help you reduce fluid retention, and the weight gain and bloating caused by it. This can be done by reducing the intake of salt and high-sodium foods like processed foods. At the same time, you can include more potassium-rich foods in your diet, like bananas, grapefruits, spinach, oranges, milk, apricots, dates, and baked potatoes.

Control Your Appetite
Appetite control does not mean that you have to starve yourself. Instead, you should eat several small and frequent meals to maintain an ideal body weight. Try to include more nutritious food in your diet, and cut down the consumption of processed and fried foods, and foods with extra oil or fats. Follow a high-protein, but low-carbohydrate diet. Include more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet and eat calcium-rich foods. Along with weight gain, prednisone can cause osteoporosis by accelerating the process of bone loss.

Increase Your Physical Activity
Inflammatory conditions like arthritis can make it difficult to exercise or perform physical activities. If you are suffering from such a condition, talk to your physician and physical therapist to design an appropriate exercise regimen on the basis of your abilities. Try to include aerobic exercises and strength training that can help burn calories and strengthen your joints.
However, weight gain is not the only undesirable side effect of this medication. This drug can cause a number of other side effects, of which high blood pressure, an increase in blood sugar, peptic ulcers, glaucoma, blurred vision, insomnia, abdominal pain and bloating, joint pain, and allergic reactions can be some of the major side effects. However, all individuals may not experience these side effects. The severity of the side effects depends on the dosage, as well as the length of time for which it is taken. If you experience excessive weight gain while taking prednisone, or if you fail to control your weight with the aforementioned measures, then talk to your health care provider.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.
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