Coronavirus: Study dispels fears ibuprofen and Voltaren can make COVID-19 symptoms worse

Ibuprofen - safe at normal doses.
Ibuprofen - safe at normal doses. Photo credit: Getty

Early fears common painkillers like ibuprofen and diclofenac could worsen COVID-19 infections has proven to be unfounded.

In March the World Health Organization warned patients to avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers, after France's Health Minister Olivier Veran said there was evidence they could be an "aggravating factor" in infections.

"If you have a fever, take paracetamol. If you are already on anti-inflammatory drugs or in doubt, ask your doctor for advice." 

The WHO quickly backtracked, and by June ibuprofen was being investigated as a potential treatment.

To find out once and for all, researchers in Denmark looked at health data from every single Dane who caught the virus between February and April - more than 9000 people. Nearly 250 of them had a prescription for NSAIDs within 30 days of testing positive. 

They found zero associations between NSAID use and any outcomes - they simply had no effect on hospitalisation rates, mortality, ICU admission.

"Considering the available evidence, there is no reason to withdraw well-indicated use of NSAIDs during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic," the research, published in journal PLOS Medicine, said.

"However, the well-established adverse effects of NSAIDs, particularly their renal, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular effects, should always be considered, and NSAIDs should be used in the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible duration for all patients."

The researchers said the initial research suggesting NSAIDs could help the virus infect more cells was done in "diabetic rats", and the findings might not apply to humans. 

Ibuprofen is sold over-the-counter here under the brand names Ibugesic and Nurofen, among others, while diclofenac is better-known as Voltaren.