When living with lupus, finding relief from the trio of swelling, inflammation, and pain is crucial. If you have lupus, you’ve probably used prednisone to help treat your symptoms. Prednisone and other steroids are known to cause a range of side effects, and members of MyLupusTeam have asked about how prednisone might affect blood test results.
“My primary care provider prescribed me prednisone for a respiratory infection,” one member shared. “I have an appointment with the rheumatologist next week for blood work to follow up on a biopsy for my lupus. What effect will the prednisone have on my blood work?”
In this article, we’ll explore some of the key things that you should know about getting blood work done while taking prednisone if you have lupus, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus. All of your health care providers must know when you’re taking a corticosteroid, as they can cause side effects, interact with other medications, and affect blood test results.
Prednisone is often prescribed to help manage the symptoms of inflammation caused by lupus. Prednisone can also help treat other diseases or complications that occur because of lupus. One way prednisone prevents inflammation is by interfering with how your body makes cortisol, a hormone associated with stress that can lead to inflammation.
Prednisone is commonly used to treat various symptoms of lupus, including:
Inflammation caused by lupus can cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Prednisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory drug that can help decrease inflammation in your body and lessen these symptoms.
Many people with lupus experience rashes on their skin, which can be itchy, painful, and unsightly. Discoid lupus, a type of lupus that affects the skin, causes sores on the scalp and face. Prednisone can help to make these symptoms less severe.
Lupus can cause inflammation in the lungs, which can make breathing more difficult. Prednisone can help to reduce this inflammation and improve lung function by calming down the immune system’s overreaction, allowing for better lung function and easier breathing.
Lupus can sometimes lead to complications such as kidney damage, blood clots, and infections. Prednisone may be used to help manage these complications and prevent them from getting worse.
While prednisone may be effective in helping manage lupus symptoms, it can also cause side effects, ranging from mild to severe. Some of the most common side effects of prednisone include:
It’s important to be aware of these potential side effects and to talk to your doctor if you experience any concerning symptoms while taking prednisone. In some cases, the benefits of taking prednisone may outweigh the risks, but it’s important to work closely with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
To diagnose lupus, doctors review a person’s medical history and the results of several types of exams and tests — often including different blood tests.
A complete blood count (CBC) measures the numbers and types of cells in your blood. Lupus can decrease the number of platelets (cells important for blood clotting), red blood cells, and white blood cells (immune cells) in your blood.
Your body normally uses antibodies to fight off bacteria and viruses but in lupus, your body makes antibodies that fight itself. Antibody tests look for these antibodies. One of the most common antibody tests used is the antinuclear antibodies test.
Lupus can change how fast your blood clots which, in extreme cases, can cause strokes. The blood clotting test measures how quickly your blood forms a clot.
Complement is a protein in your blood that is used up when your body produces inflammation. For this reason, low levels of complement in your blood could indicate that there is a lot of inflammation in your body, potentially caused by lupus.
The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) examines how fast your red blood cells settle in a tube. If your body has high levels of inflammation, these cells may stick together and settle faster.
Because prednisone is used to treat inflammation caused by lupus, taking prednisone will likely change the results of several of the tests used to diagnose lupus.
These tests may include:
Before you start taking a steroid like prednisone, your doctor will often order several blood tests to see your results before treatment. This is called your baseline and can help your doctor know which side effects they need to watch for when you are taking prednisone.
Prednisone can affect the results of several tests used to diagnose lupus, such as:
This test is used to determine the baseline level of fats in your blood. Prednisone can raise the levels of fats such as cholesterol in your blood. “Fasting” means that the test must be taken before eating or drinking anything besides water.
Taking prednisone long term can lead to high blood sugar and potentially diabetes. Increased blood sugar levels would show up on blood sugar tests.
When taking prednisone, remember that it can affect the levels of certain minerals in your blood, such as potassium, sodium, and calcium. These changes can be detected through blood tests, allowing health care professionals to monitor and manage any imbalances to ensure your overall well-being.
After you stop taking prednisone, especially in high doses, your body might have a hard time making cortisol again. This is known as adrenal suppression and can cause you to feel tired all the time. To test for this condition, your doctor might measure your cortisol levels to see if they have returned to normal.
Because prednisone can cause changes in laboratory tests and blood test results, you should make sure your doctors are aware when you’re taking it. You may want to carry a steroid treatment card or wear a medical alert bracelet in case you’re unable to talk to your doctor.
It’s also important to have a health care provider who listens to your concerns and works with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you. By being informed and proactive about your health, you can help ensure that you receive the best possible care and treatment for your lupus.
Remember, you’re not alone in your experience, and there are resources available to help you navigate the challenges of living with lupus.
MyLupusTeam is the social network for people with lupus and their loved ones. On MyLupusTeam, more than 222,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lupus.
Did your doctor prescribe prednisone to help treat your symptoms of lupus? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.