The Link Between Prednisone and Diabetes

Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes means having to carefully manage blood sugar levels to prevent complications such as hypoglycemia and nerve damage. Prednisone is a medication that can lead to spikes in blood sugar, but for some, stopping the use of prednisone is not an option due to co-occurring medical conditions. Knowing more about the link between prednisone and diabetes can help people avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes as well as prevent symptoms from worsening in those who already have diabetes.

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What is prednisone?

Prednisone is a steroid medication commonly used to treat medical conditions such as arthritis, allergies and breathing problems. Prednisone belongs to a class of drugs known as corticosteroids. These medications work similarly to a naturally occurring stress hormone in the body called cortisol.

Cortisol plays a role in many bodily processes including metabolism, blood pressure and blood sugar control. Imbalances in the body’s natural cortisol levels can upset the balance of other hormones—including insulin. People who use prednisone face the risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to having high blood sugar levels.

How does prednisone cause or worsen diabetes?

Prednisone works by slowing the activity of the immune system to help people manage symptoms of certain medical conditions. For example, people who use prednisone to treat asthma may experience reduced and less severe symptoms of swelling, mucus production and asthma attacks. However, prednisone produces side effects that can make users more susceptible to type 2 diabetes.

Common side effects of prednisone include increased insulin production, high blood sugar, weight gain and high blood pressure. What do prednisone and diabetes have in common? All these side effects are also common risk factors for type 2 diabetes. People who use prednisone for an extended time may go on to develop diabetes, while those who are already diagnosed with diabetes may suffer worsened symptoms.

What are some symptoms of diabetes caused by prednisone?

The symptoms for type 2 diabetes are always the same regardless of the cause of this chronic health condition. Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes may include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased, frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Tingling or numbness in extremities
  • Frequent infections that heal slowly

What are the risk factors for prednisone-induced diabetes?

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include those that are nonmodifiable and those that are lifestyle-related. Nonmodifiable risk factors include having a family history of diabetes or being 45 or older. African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Hawaiians, or Pacific Islanders are also considered high-risk groups.

Lifestyle risk factors for type 2 diabetes include lack of exercise, poor nutrition and being overweight or obese. People with these risk factors may reduce their likelihood of developing diabetes by exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

How to treat prednisone-induced diabetes

People who are using prednisone to treat certain medical conditions should talk to their doctors about alternative treatments that will not spike blood sugar or increase the risk for type 2 diabetes. In some cases, doctors may prescribe different medications or recommend healthy lifestyle changes that could improve their conditions.

Those who must continue using prednisone should monitor their blood sugar levels regularly and work with their doctors to prevent or control diabetes. People who are already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes should check their blood sugar levels at least four times per day and use higher doses of insulin as advised by their doctors. These individuals should also keep glucose tablets, juice or candies with them at all times to treat hypoglycemia in the event that blood sugar levels should drop abruptly.

Prednisone, diabetes and safety

Prednisone and diabetes do not have to be a dangerous combination as long as people who use prednisone understand the risks — especially if they already have type 2 diabetes. Blood sugar management and healthy lifestyle behaviors are key to staying safe while using prednisone and living with diabetes.

If you are living with diabetes or caring for someone diagnosed with diabetes, browse our database of healthy recipes, tips on nutrition and exercise, and our many other diabetes resources. Our mission is to provide you with the information you need to safely and effectively manage diabetes.

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