Is It Safe To Take Ibuprofen And NSAIDs For COVID-19 Symptoms?

Mar 19, 2020
Originally published on March 19, 2020 7:39 pm
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Is it risky to take ibuprofen if you have symptoms of COVID-19? The French health ministry says yes. Over the weekend, it warned doctors not to give ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to patients with the disease. But experts on the frontlines of this pandemic say there is no reason for alarm. NPR's Maria Godoy reports.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: The concern over ibuprofen started with a brief letter published in the medical journal The Lancet last week. The authors hypothesized that medications such as ibuprofen and other NSAIDs could raise a person's risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. The theory was that these drugs increase levels of an enzyme that would make it easier for the virus to infect cells, but leading global health officials say there's no evidence this is actually the case.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, sometimes discussions off the cuff turn into letters, turn into social media, turn into a lot of discussion. And you have no idea where it comes from.

GODOY: That's Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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FAUCI: Bottom line is I have not seen any firm data to indicate there's a problem or to prove that there's not a problem.

GODOY: The World Health Organization agrees. It issued a statement on Twitter saying it's been in touch with doctors treating coronavirus patients and hasn't heard of any negative side effects from ibuprofen beyond those already known. For instance, patients with kidney problems shouldn't take ibuprofen because it can cause kidney damage when used long-term in high doses. Dr. Angela Rogers, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Stanford University, says that's one reason why hospitals routinely avoid ibuprofen for patients sick enough to be hospitalized with any sort of infection.

ANGELA ROGERS: When patients are very ill with fevers and hospitalized, they're at risk for kidney injury. And so Tylenol really is the go-to one that we use.

GODOY: Tylenol doesn't work the same way as NSAIDs, and it's thought to affect the part of the brain that regulates temperature. But Tylenol isn't risk-free, either. It can damage the liver in high doses. So if you have mild symptoms of COVID-19 and want to treat them at home...

ROGERS: If people are, you know, have no liver disease and it makes them feel a little bit more secure to start Tylenol first, that might be a reasonable way to do it.

GODOY: But if you take ibuprofen or other NSAIDs for other medical reasons, Rogers says talk to your doctor if you're worried. But for now, there's no reason to stop taking them.

Maria Godoy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.