Coronavirus and Ibuprofen: What you need to know

There is no published research to prove or disprove the claims and anyone taking ibuprofen regularly should consult their doctor before making any changes

Stock photo of Ibuprofen. PA Images / Reuters
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Whether it's a message purporting to be from an Ireland-based doctor or a Facebook post shared among friends, many will recognise the claim that it is dangerous to take ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflamatory medications (NSAIDS) if you are at risk of contracting or have already contracted coronavirus.

Unlike some of the wild and wonderful claims about Covid-19 out there, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to this one.

Here’s what you need to know:

Where did the claim come from?

The first official to make the claim was French Health Minister Olivier Veran, who said taking the painkiller could “be a factor in aggravating the infection” but advised those already taking the drug to ask their doctor’s advice.

His tweet followed a letter published in the medical journal The Lancet on March 11 which said certain drugs, including ibuprofen, could increase ACE2 receptors on the surface of cells. Covid-19 infects cells through these receptors so could make patients more vulnerable to the virus, they said. The hypothesis had not been tested, however.

On March 17, the authors of the letter clarified it "was expressly formulated as a hypothesis...aimed at scientists with a view to further investigation based on additional patient data"

There were also claims of critically ill young people in the cities of Cork in Ireland and Toulouse in France linked to taking ibuprofen circulating on WhatsApp, both found to be false.

The Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland rebuffed the claim about Cork.

“It has come to our attention that there is a WhatsApp message being circulated purporting to be from the ID consultants in Cork, all of whom are members of @IDSIreland,” it wrote on Twitter.

“It's signed Dr Tim. This is a fake message, please ignore and delete. Thanks.”

Should we pay attention?

Although there is no published research to prove or disprove the claim, some experts and health authorities have advised to swap paracetamol for ibuprofen if possible, just in case.

However, the World Health Organization recommended on Tuesday that people suffering COVID-19 symptoms avoid taking ibuprofen unless prescribed it by a doctor while they look into this.

Dr Ravi Arora, a specialist in internal medicine at NMC Speciality Hospital Abu Dhabi, said while it is too early to say whether the claim has any credence to it, ibuprofen is probably best avoided to treat symptoms of the virus.

“If there is a fever, probably it is safer to take paracetamol, rather than ibuprofen, until we have further clarity on this.

“However, if anyone who is already on anti-inflammatories, or is taking ibuprofen for some other indication, do not discontinue them without discussing it first with your clinician.”

The UK's NHS has offered similar guidance, saying there is "currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (Covid-19) worse" but recommended paracetamol for treating symptoms.

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"There is currently no scientific evidence establishing a link between ibuprofen and worsening of Covid-19,” the European Medical Agency said on Wednesday. Following the leaflet instructions means using as little as possible for the shortest possible amount of time.

The agency already started a review of ibuprofen and another NSAID, ketoprofen, last May after the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety suggested they could worsen infections including chickenpox.

The medicines’ anti-inflammatory effects might hide the symptoms of an infection getting worse, the agency said. Hiding symptoms is a separate issue from the hypothetical link suggested in the Lancet letter, and paracetamol also has a fever-reducing effect.