With so much information — and misinformation — out there about the coronavirus (COVID-19), you may understandably be confused about how to treat the symptoms if you get it. There’s been some discussion about whether or not it’s safe to take ibuprofen, for example. There were fears circulating that the common fever reducer could exacerbate the virus, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has since clarified its position.
WHO had tweeted a graphic explaining that, “based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen. We are also consulting with physicians treating COVID-19 patients and are not aware of reports of any negative side effects of ibuprofen, beyond the usual known side effects that limit its use in certain populations.”
The concerns over ibuprofen began with a report in the scientific journal The Lancet, which suggested that ibuprofen could increase the expression of ACE2 receptors that the virus uses to bind to cells, and therefore facilitate the spread of the infection. However, these concerns are largely theoretical, based on limited lab observations and scientific hypotheses.
As Dr. Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD, chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare, explains, the findings are based on similarities in a small group of severe cases of COVID-19, in which patients shared common conditions, including cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
“These patients were often treated with a common hypertension medication called an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor,” Dr. Yacoub said. “These medications can increase the expression of an enzyme called ACE2, which has been identified as a way the current coronavirus attaches to the lungs in the body. So, based on this finding, they hypothesized that an increase in expression of ACE2 can lead to more severe cases of COVID-19.”
While other medications like ibuprofen can lead to an increase in ACE2, Dr. Yacoub repeated that there are currently no recommendations to avoid the pain reliever. “This observation was noted in a small group of patients, and there have not been any controlled trials to prove this at this point.”
“We are currently learning a lot about this coronavirus, and there is a lot of information that is floating around based on small studies and anecdotal evidence. There have been a number of controlled studies that have started to try to find effective ways to treat COVID-19, and these studies should provide us more insight, once completed.”
What should you do in the meantime? “Speak to your healthcare professional about the use of ibuprofen and if it’s right for you,” Dr. Yacoub said.