There’s a lot of advice floating around about the novel coronavirus and how to limit the spread of the pandemic. Some of it is good; some of it is terrible.
One question has been whether ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs are safe to use for symptoms of COVID-19, including fever and body aches. One family said that their child’s condition worsened after taking ibuprofen for COVID-19. France’s health ministry suggested that using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) could aggravate the disease.
Olivier Veran, the French health minister, tweeted over the weekend that if “you have a fever, take paracetamol. If you are already on anti-inflammatory drugs or in doubt, ask your doctor for advice.” Paracetamol is the equivalent of acetaminophen ― which is what’s used in Tylenol and its various copies ― in the United States.
The French ministry added the warning to its coronavirus guidance after the government published a report that found “grave adverse effects” linked to the use of NSAIDs in patients affected by COVID-19, CNN reported.
But some experts say there isn’t enough evidence to support that claim. The virus is too new for extensive studies on it, including research that would suggest ibuprofen or related drugs may make symptoms worse. Because of this, the World Health Organization put out a statement saying it “does not recommend against the use of of ibuprofen.”
“I am not aware of any studies that have specifically linked the use of ibuprofen with increased risk of complications with the COVID-19,” Eudene Harry, a board-certified physician in emergency medicine and medical director for the Oasis Wellness & Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida, told HuffPost.
Still, some health professionals say they’re not disregarding the idea that ibuprofen might make a poor treatment for COVID-19. The illness, if it becomes severe, can lead to issues with organs like the kidneys, which can be stressed by NSAIDs. But that’s not enough to recommend ditching the drugs entirely.
“There is a good reason to avoid ibuprofen as it may exacerbate acute kidney injury brought on by any severe illness, including severe COVID-19 disease,” Rupert Beale, a group leader in Cell Biology of Infection at the United Kingdom’s Francis Crick Institute, told the UK’s Science Media Centre. “There isn’t yet any widely accepted additional reason to avoid it for COVID-19.”
Doctors may recommend acetaminophen products over NSAIDs if a patient with COVID-19 also has other medical conditions, Harry said.
“There can be concern for individuals with underlying renal or cardiovascular conditions, as these are already conditions in which caution is exercised when using NSAIDs such as ibuprofen,” Harry said, noting that this concern is speculative right now. “Other concerns would be pre-existing gastrointestinal issues. Since older individuals are more likely to have underlying chronic conditions such as these and they are the most susceptible to complications, that might be the basis for the concerns.”
Experts told CNN that acetaminophen may be preferable as a COVID-19 treatment, since it is also less likely to cause side effects like stomach or kidney irritation.
If you think you have COVID-19, the best course of action, as with any illness, is to chat with your doctor, Harry said. As long as you aren’t experiencing a high fever and intense shortness of breath that requires immediate medical attention, it’s best to call or contact them through a telemedicine appointment.
Your physician will be able to give recommendations ― including which medications to use ― based on your symptoms and health history.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the World Health Organization on the use of NSAIDs.