Does Ibuprofen Make Coronavirus Worse?

A young woman analyzing an over-the-counter medication.
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You may have read news reports online that said taking ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, make coronavirus worse when they are used to treat symptoms of the disease, like fever.

The health minister of France tweeted this claim on March 14, 2020, and the news went viral. Unfortunately, the claim was based on a small number of cases and is not sufficient evidence for making a public health recommendation. Four days later, on March 18, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement advising that it does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen to treat fever associated with coronavirus.

Keep in mind that both ibuprofen and acetaminophen have warnings on their product labels about potential risks for other health problems. We’ll explain the crux of the controversy and how you can decide what medications are right for you or your family to use, if any of you are sick with coronavirus.

Viral News About Ibuprofen Is Off Base

Olivier Véran, MD, the health minister of France, sparked viral news with his tweet on March 14, 2020. He warned that people with coronavirus should take acetaminophen instead of ibuprofen to treat fever, claiming that NSAIDs worsen disease symptoms.

According to this article in the British Medical Journal, Dr. Véran’s recommendation may have been traced to remarks made by an infectious disease doctor in France. She reported that four young patients with coronavirus and no underlying health conditions developed severe symptoms after using NSAIDs in the early stages of the disease.

Dr. Véran’s recommendation also followed a commentary published by researchers in Switzerland and Greece in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine on March 11, 2020. They said that certain drugs, including ibuprofen, can increase the number of receptors that coronavirus uses to infect cells. So, theoretically, people taking those drugs might have a higher risk of serious illness.

The World Health Organization Does Not Recommend Against the Use of Ibuprofen

The World Health Organization issued a statement on Twitter, saying that there is not enough evidence to support Dr. Véran’s recommendation. The WHO tweeted on March 18, 2020, that, “…Based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen.”

The WHO explained further: “We are also consulting with physicians treating COVID-19 patients and are not aware of any negative effects of ibuprofen, beyond the usual side effects that limit its use in certain populations. WHO is not aware of published clinical or population-based data on this topic.”

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) echoed the position of the WHO, saying that it is not aware of scientific evidence connecting ibuprofen and NSAIDs with worsening coronavirus symptoms, in a statement issued March 19, 2020. The FDA plans to investigate the matter further and will publish the findings when it has more information.

Should You Use Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen?

Regardless of the type of pain you’re experiencing, it’s important to always read the labels on over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. The FDA noted in its statement that all NSAIDs carry a warning on the label.

These drugs work by reducing inflammation and fever, but at the same time, they may mask the diagnostic signs of infection, putting people at risk of other health problems.

Ibuprofen Risks to Know
People who take ibuprofen, especially people who take it for a long time to treat chronic medical conditions, may have a higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke than people who do not take it. Also, ibuprofen can cause ulcers, bleeding or holes in the stomach or the intestine, according to the product label.

Acetaminophen Risks to Know
Acetaminophen works differently in the body. It relieves fever and pain but doesn’t reduce inflammation, the body’s immune response to illness or injury. It also carries risks: Taking too much acetaminophen can cause serious liver damage, and overdoses can cause death, according to the product label (see the warnings section).

If a family member is sick with coronavirus, you can offer them a medication to relieve their fever symptoms. Which one you give them will depend on their health history and their individual circumstances.

Call Your Doctor if You Need Help
Contact your physician for guidance, especially if your loved one has a history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes or takes pain relievers on a regular basis. Many health care professionals are offering telehealth or telemedicine visits online during the coronavirus pandemic. You can also video visit with a health care provider on the AdventHealth app, right on your smartphone or tablet.

Know the Right Sources to Trust

Many people are eager to learn about new ways to help others who are sick with coronavirus. But remember that public health recommendations from trustworthy sources are based on scientific studies and what we know about how coronavirus spreads.

Misinformation from news feeds or social media can bring unnecessary stress to you and your family during the coronavirus pandemic. Ease your mind by following trustworthy sources for the latest coronavirus information.

We’re Here to Help You and Your Family

We’re here to help your family stay up to date on coronavirus news, and here for you with expert care you can count on. You can use the AdventHealth app to get health care right at home, message your health care team or be seen by a physician through a video visit. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for more information.

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