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Coronavirus Myths & Facts: Will Ibuprofen Make It Worse?

Michael  W. Smith, MD - Blogs
By Michael W. Smith, MDBoard-certified internistMarch 18, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

Being in medicine, I'm used to hearing crazy health myths – from the ridiculous to the dangerous. So, as I started hearing the myths around the COVID-19 coronavirus, I wasn’t surprised – but I was concerned. This virus is too serious to be taken lightly or to be draped in misinformation. Now more than ever, it's important to know the difference between fact and fiction. I’ll be sharing myths – and facts – here regularly, in the hopes that you’ll take this information to heart (and share it with others) so that we can all stay safe and healthy. 

Here's one I’ve seen surfacing on my social media feed the past couple of days:

Do some over-the-counter painkillers make COVID-19 worse?

This myth does have a scientific theory behind it – but there’s no actual evidence that it’s true. When the health minister of France, Olivier Veran, put out a bold proclamation that certain painkillers could worsen COVID-19, it took off. We’re talking about common over-the-counter painkillers, like ibuprofen and aspirin (known as NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which also reduce fever.

This was in reaction to a letter in a premier medical journal, The Lancet, in which the author suggested that these drugs increase the number of receptors on cells that the coronavirus attaches to. More receptors allegedly means the virus that causes COVID-19 could more attach more strongly to cells, causing more severe symptoms. Many medical experts came out strongly against this contention, noting there’s no evidence to support the notion that it causes more severe symptoms.

Initially, the World Health Organization recommended against the use of ibuprofen for COVID-19 symptoms. However, after further consideration, they changed their direction and no longer recommend against its use.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, work with your doctor on what makes sense for you. Both ibuprofen and acetaminophen have side effects, especially with over-use or prolonged use. Both are effective pain and fever reducers, so if you want to side with WHO and be extra cautious, acetaminophen is a fine way to go. Just be careful not to take more than recommended on the label, as too much can cause liver damage.

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About the Author
Michael W. Smith, MD

Michael Smith, MD, CPT, is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and WebMD’s Chief Medical Editor. He is also an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer with a passion for helping people live a healthy, active lifestyle. He appears regularly as an expert on national and local broadcast media.

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