Confusion over use of ibuprofen to treat Covid-19 symptoms

The virus Covid-19 produces flu-like symptoms. Many people use ibuprofen that is found in over-the-counter drugs like Advil, Motirn, and Nurofen to treat their symptoms. Ibuprofen belongs to a class of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and this past week there was some confusion as to whether these aggravated the disease. Last Saturday the 14th, the French health minister initially warned against its use and suggested switching to acetaminophen. The WHO initially on the 17th also urged caution but reversed itself the next day reversed itself and said that currently there is no reason to think that it poses any danger and is not recommending against its use.

“The first thing that someone should do if they have a fever and are concerned about COVID-19 is call their health care provider and be evaluated and see whether they need to be diagnosed,” [Dr. Larry William Chang, associate professor of medicine, epidemiology and international health at the Johns Hopkins Medicine] Chang says.

According to the CDC, symptoms of COVID-19 typically appear two to 14 days after exposure and include:

  • Cough.
  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.

[Dr. Prakash Shrestha, an infectious disease physician and medical director of the antimicrobial stewardship program at Covenant Health in Lubbock, Texas] says that “80% of patients have mild symptoms,” and if you fall into this category, you should seek “supportive measures” that treat symptoms, such as using acetaminophen to reduce fever. He also recommends drinking plenty of water and eating soup to remain hydrated.

If you have a fever and body aches that may be associated with the coronavirus, Klausner also recommends treating these symptoms with acetaminophen because it’s “a very effective way to reduce fever,” he says.

Because this novel coronavirus is part of the family of viruses that cause the common cold, Klausner adds that “people with mild symptoms can manage this like the common cold with over the-counter cold medications.” The remedies you might use to feel better with a common cold to “reduce muscle aches, fevers, headaches would be appropriate,” he says.

For otherwise healthy adults with no complicating medical conditions, Chang agrees that acetaminophen might be the better option for treating pain and fever associated with the coronavirus until we know more.

However, he notes that there are some caveats to that recommendation. “Many critically ill patients with COVID-19 do experience significant complications with their kidneys and liver, so that can make choosing the right medication for their fever pretty complicated. So, for example, if you have any damage to your kidneys already, you typically do not want to use NSAIDs as that can make things a lot worse.”

But for folks with liver problems, the opposite might be true, Chang says. “If there’s something wrong with the liver, we generally tell people to avoid using acetaminophen because high doses of that it can harm the liver.”

This shows how fast moving this situation is and that if one is having symptoms, one should exercise caution and look carefully into things before rushing to treat oneself.

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