Are Ibuprofen and Coronavirus a Dangerous Combination?

March 25, 2020
General guidelines recommend that paracetamol should be the first option to treat a fever. However, many experts also point out that there isn't any evidence of problems when it comes to ibuprofen and coronavirus.

According to the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Healthcare Products (AEMPS), there’s no evidence to suggest that the use of ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can aggravate conditions caused by the coronavirus COVID-19. So, why do some think some ibuprofen and coronavirus is a dangerous combination?

We’re currently waiting for experts to finalize their research on the matter. Because of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that we shouldn’t take ibuprofen unless specifically prescribed by a health professional.

This research is expected to be completed in May. Even so, with the information available, the AEMPS has warned about the complexity of determining whether ibuprofen really does aggravate coronavirus infection.

Ibuprofen is used to treat the initial symptoms of infections. Because of that, the cause-and-effect relationship isn’t easy to establish.

The EMA is monitoring the situation closely and has said it will review any new information that becomes available on this issue in the context of the pandemic. However, at this time it reiterates that there’s no scientific evidence to establish a link between ibuprofen and the worsening of conditions resulting from COVID-19.

Paracetamol, the first choice for fever

Some taking a tablet.
In cases of fever, options such as paracetamol should be the first choice.

The information sheets for medicines containing ibuprofen already state that ibuprofen can mask the symptoms of certain infections. The AEMPS suggests that this may delay their diagnosis, allowing infections to reach more advanced stages.

Having said that, the organization is referring to infections in general. It doesn’t specifically address the COVID-19 infection. Guidelines recommend that our first choice should be paracetamol for treating a fever. However, the AEMPS states that there’s currently no evidence to contraindicate the use of ibuprofen in the treatment of minor symptoms.

In both cases, we should use the medication following its instructions. Also, it’s best to take the lowest doses recommended.

Are ibuprofen and coronavirus a dangerous combination?

The controversy was sparked by French Health Minister Olivier Véran. He warned, via his Twitter account, that taking ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs could worsen coronavirus infection.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Healthcare Products (AEMPS), assures that there’s currently no evidence that ibuprofen makes a COVID-19 infection worse. The same goes for other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Consequently, there’s no reason for patients who are currently taking this medication for other illnesses to discontinue them.

You may also be interested: The Differences Between Viruses and Bacteria

Ibuprofen or paracetamol?

Taking a tablet.
There’s no evidence to stop using ibuprofen for minor symptoms. However, paracetamol is suggested as your first choice.

France and Spain disagree regarding which one to take to combat coronavirus. The French Health Minister Olivier Véran claims that taking anti-inflammatory drugs can aggravate COVID-19 infection and that paracetamol is a better choice. However, the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) has denied the minister’s claim. Similarly, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have joined the AEMPS’s stance. They have also stated that there’s no evidence to show that ibuprofen can worsen the condition of someone with coronavirus disease.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine has called on members of the scientific community to help. They’ve asked for their help to prevent the dissemination of messages like these that don’t have proven scientific evidence.

Is there evidence on the relationship between Ibuprofen and coronavirus infection?

At present, it’s virtually impossible to have scientifically-sound clinical trials that could provide answers to many different scientific questions about this infection. Most of the available information is from epidemiological studies. In these studies, a causal relationship can’t be established, the organization has said. Similarly, no data on adverse reactions to these drugs are available from national and international drug regulatory and evaluation agencies.

Read also: Is it Coronavirus, the Flu, or Allergies?

To take or not to take ibuprofen?

The Infectious Diseases Working Group of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (SEMFYC) has stated that drugs such as ibuprofen should not be advised against unless there are scientific studies that justify that they should not be administered.

In any case, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises that we should use paracetamol first in cases of fever and pain. Patients with kidney disease, for example, should avoid ibuprofen altogether. Overall, the choice between one option or the other depends on the individual characteristics of the patient. That’s why it’s important to seek professional advice.