Adult is crying and looking down at a medical pill, medication, side effects, treatment. NB, Non-binary, Genderqueer

The Pitfalls of Prednisone

"Mommy, why do you look like a squirrel with a mouth full of nuts?"

When my son was little, he often asked this question as we looked through family photos. Honestly, it’s a question I’ve addressed to many people over the course of my IBD journey.

Whenever I flip through memory books filled with pictures of me sporting various haircuts and shades of hair color, the images of my time during the worst ulcerative colitis flare-ups are always clear.

The moon face gives it away.

Taking prednisone for ulcerative colitis

After years of many stints on prednisone, I have both love and loathing towards this medicinal route. As a steroid that reduces inflammation in the body, prednisone used to be the automatic prescribed medication by my gastroenterologist. Whenever he couldn’t get any other treatment to alleviate my UC flares, he’d whip out his prescription pad and scratch out PREDNISONE.

How many times did I cry holding that prescription in my hands?

Over my 30-year UC journey, I’ve learned much about the good, the bad, and the ugly surrounding this steroid.

Always, I knew my colitis symptoms would subside rather fast. It kicks in quickly. And for a while, I feel like Wonder Woman. That I have the strength to lift multiple cars off the ground and shot-put them across a football field if any occasion required that. (Sadly, I’ve never had that opportunity.)

Moon face, swelling, and irritability

But I also learned too many times what I didn’t like about this oral tablet. The swollen face is one of many potential side effects of a long stint on this medication. In addition, I found myself getting aggressive with people around me and also easily agitated by their behaviors. The mood changes and irritability are no good for anyone — especially for those living with me.

Then, I also discovered that taking this steroid for more than a month caused swelling in my hands, calves, and feet.

I felt like a bloated balloon going about my daily tasks. My clothes got tight. Yes, my colitis symptoms subsided, which meant I ate more. The more food I ingested, the more weight I gained. Plus, the more bloated I became.

With increased moodiness and irritability, I also found myself unable to sleep most nights. This led me to being constantly tired. It made it difficult for me to get through a day teaching in the classroom.

The positives of prednisone

So, what was the good that came with prednisone? First, the price. My insurance has always covered this prescription. I think in all my years of dealing with it, I’ve never paid more than 10 dollars for a dose. Other benefits were that my rectal bleeding subsided along with the constant diarrhea.

I did have short-lived energy. But that energy lasted no more than 2 weeks. If I were on it longer than that, all the ugly effects of prednisone kicked in.

How I now handle UC flares

As is every experience in life, I’ve learned that my body can only handle small doses of this steroid. When I fell into a flare last year, my new gastroenterologist prescribed me only a 5-day dose. This was enough to turn my gut around. Because I’ve also learned not to "tough it out" when it comes to a flare.

Now, I contact my doctor at once whenever symptoms of a UC flare begin.

When looking back at the pictures where I’m sporting the swollen squirrel cheeks, I am reminded of how far I’ve traveled along this IBD journey. Also, I think, "What a shame no one needed some cars moved..."

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