COVID-19 and ibuprofen – what are the facts?

Hi everyone, there’s been a bit of scaremongering out there (surely not??) about ibuprofen making the symptoms of COVID-19 worse. In this post, I will give you the facts, and the latest advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It started with a Tweet on 14th March by French health minister Olivier Veran, stating that anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen could aggravate the symptoms of COVID-19, and that the symptoms of COVID-19 should only be treated with paracetamol.

Ibuprofen is on of a group of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Other examples include aspirin and naproxen. M. Veran claimed that ‘serious adverse events’ had been reported in COVID-19 patients being treated with NSAIDs and that their use should be banned. No details were given about these supposed ‘adverse events’ at the time.

On 17th March, the French state-owned news service, Agence France-Presse, stated that this was based on evidence published in the medical journal The Lancet on March 11th. I’ve read the article and trust me, it makes absolutely NO mention of ibuprofen or any other NSAIDs. It’s actually about increased risk of complications from COVID-19 in patients with a combination of diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) who are being treated with a specific class of drugs that are not remotely related to ibuprofen or any other NSAIDs.

Following M. Veran’s tweet, the WHO did the sensible thing and advised against the use of ibuprofen to treat COVID-19 until they could clarify the situation. After a full investigation and analysis of all the available evidence, on March 18th both the WHO and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) issued statements saying that there was no evidence of a link between ibuprofen and worsening of COVID-19 symptoms; and that there was no recommendation against taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs.

So, is there a risk? NSAIDs are known to trigger or worsen the symptoms of asthma in some people. If your asthma is triggered by NSAIDs, you will already know not to take them. I know that for me, the NSAID diclofenac is one of my triggers. Ibuprofen is fine, so are aspirin and naproxen, but to be on the safe side, I try to avoid using them for longer than 2-3 days.

So, there is no reason not to use ibuprofen or any other NSAID to treat symptoms of COVID-19, provided you read all the information and follow the instructions on the pack. Personally, if I am unwell, I prefer to use paracetamol, which relieves pain but is not anti-inflammatory. But that is because inflammation is an important part of how your immune system fights infection so if possible, I prefer to let it do its stuff!

A final note. If you are being prescribed ibuprofen or any other NSAID for a long-term medical condition and you are worried, don’t stop taking it but do consult your doctor for advice. Later today, an update on progress in the search for an anti-viral drug to treat COVID-19. Watch this space!