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Coronavirus (COVID-19): What medication can I take?

27 March 2020 in Health

Have recent headlines left you confused about which medicines, if any, you can take to treat or prevent coronavirus?

The reality is that there are currently no approved treatments for the illness caused by the coronavirus. However, many options are being trialled worldwide.

In the meantime, if you develop coronavirus symptoms, there are medications you can take to help you feel better.

Which painkiller: Ibuprofen or paracetamol?

Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild to severe, and include a fever, a cough, tiredness, and aches and pains.

Both paracetamol and ibuprofen are common painkillers that can be used to treat some of these symptoms - aches and pains as well as a fever. But the guidance around which is best to take when these symptoms are caused by the coronavirus is conflicted.

Some authorities and health agencies suggest that ibuprofen may make symptoms worse, while others say it’s fine to use for now.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently changed its position on ibuprofen. It now says that, based on currently available information, it ‘does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen.’

This is because it’s ‘not aware of any negative effects of ibuprofen beyond the usual known side effects.’ These side effects include headaches, dizziness and indigestion.

But some governments and health organisations hold a slightly different view.

The UK government and National Health Service (NHS) say that it’s best to take paracetamol to treat coronavirus symptoms until more information about the effect of ibuprofen is available.

Both agree that there’s no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make the illness worse, but they want to know more.

Ibuprofen is a type of medication called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that is used to treat pain, inflammation and a fever. Many people use them to treat other conditions, such as arthritis or chronic pain.

If you take NSAIDs to treat an on-going condition, don’t stop taking them without speaking to a doctor.

The back and forth around ibuprofen has led to people stockpiling paracetamol, leaving many unable to buy it.

If you can get paracetamol, use that to treat any symptoms of coronavirus.

Should I try chloroquine or other medicines being trialled as coronavirus treatments?

In short, no. They can be dangerous if not prescribed by a healthcare professional.

No medicines have been scientifically proven to treat the illness caused by coronavirus, and none have been approved for use in this way.

However, some experts believe the antimalarial drug chloroquine could help to treat or prevent the condition, according to the WHO. This is why it is 1 of 4 drugs being trialled in the US and other countries as well as in a large clinical trial that involves over 70 countries, led by the WHO.

Another possible treatment included in the trials is the antiviral drug remdesivir. This was originally developed as a potential treatment for Ebola and has been reported to be showing promise against the coronavirus.

The final 2 drugs being looked at in the trial are lopinavir and ritonavir (sold under the brand name Kaletra), which are currently used to treat HIV.

All 3 options have shown some benefits when used in people with coronavirus, but the findings are based on small studies and can’t be taken as conclusive evidence. More recent findings for Kaletra have not been promising.

Other drugs are being trialed in some countries, including the steroid Dexamethasone currently being tested in the UK.

Easy access to chloroquine in some countries has led to a rush in demand for the medicine, but it can have serious side effects. This is why the trials are necessary, to test how effective it is against coronavirus.

The WHO Director-General has said the agency's global trial will “generate robust, high-quality evidence as fast as possible.”

In the meantime, until there is sufficient evidence, the WHO 'cautions against physicians and medical associations recommending or administering these unproven treatments to patients with COVID-19 or people self-medicating with them.'

Stick with paracetamol if you can get it.

What about other treatments?

Other forms of treatment are also being trialed, such as the use of blood from people who have recovered from the coronavirus to help treat people suffering from severe forms of the disease.

The blood of recovered patients contains antibodies against the virus. These antibodies are found in the liquid part of your blood, known as plasma, and it's hoped that giving this plasma to people in intensive care will help them recover by boosting their immune system.

This treatment has been trialed in a few countries, including the US, UK, Korea and China.


If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.

This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.

References:

1 Ibuprofen for adults: painkiller [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 27 March 2020]. Available here.

Ibuprofen use and Coronavirus (COVID-19) [Internet]. GOV.UK. 2020 [cited 27 March 2020]. Available here.

Twitter [Internet]. Twitter.com. 2020 [cited 27 March 2020]. Available here.

Thailand joins the WHO “Solidarity Trial”: global testing of effective treatments of COVID-19 across 8 countries – an aggressive effort to save lives from the pandemic [Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 27 March 2020]. Available here.

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 23 March 2020 [Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 27 March 2020]. Available here.

[Internet]. Who.int. 2020 [cited 27 March 2020]. Available here.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Symptoms [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 27 March 2020]. Available here.

A Trial of Lopinavir–Ritonavir in Adults Hospitalized with Severe Covid-19 [Internet] New England Journal of Medicine. 2020. [cited 2 April] Available [here]

Solidarity clinical trial for COVID-19 treatments [Internet] Who.int. 2020 [cited 6 April 2020] Available [here]

World's largest trial of potential coronavirus treatments rolled out across the UK. gov.uk. 2020 [cited april 7] Available [Here]

Effectiveness of convalescent plasma therapy in severe COVID-19 patients.[Internet] pnas.org. 2020 [cited 22 April] Available [Here]

Convalescent plasma as a potential therapy for COVID-19. [Internet] thelancet.com. 2020 [cited 22 April] Available [Here]

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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