Ibuprofen has little benefit for treating cold and flu, according to UK researchers who warn it may even prolong symptoms.
They found ibuprofen, or a combination of both ibuprofen and paracetamol, provided no advantage to adult patients with respiratory tract infections, compared with paracetamol alone. Inhaling steam, another common treatment method, also had no clear benefit.
Only in children and those with chest infections was there evidence of reduced symptoms from taking ibuprofen.
Lead study author Paul Little, professor of primary care research at Southampton University, noted that paracetamol, ibuprofen or a combination of the two, were the most common treatments for respiratory tract infections.
But based on the study findings, he said routinely advising ibuprofen or ibuprofen plus paracetamol together, was “not likely to be effective” for colds.
Patients were also more likely to come back within a month with worsening or new symptoms if they were prescribed with ibuprofen or ibuprofen with paracetamol, the study showed.
Around 50-70% of study participants prescribed ibuprofen or ibuprofen with paracetamol returned.
Professor Little admitted it was a “surprising result” and suggested the treatment may contribute to the progression of the illness.
He said: “This may have something to do with the fact the ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory. It is possible that the drug is interfering with an important part of the immune response.
“Although we have to be a bit cautious since these were surprise findings, for the moment I would personally not advise most patients to use ibuprofen for symptom control for coughs colds and sore throat,” he added.
The trial, published online the BMJ, involved 899 patients who presented in primary care with respiratory tract infection symptoms.
They received paracetamol, ibuprofen or a combination of both. Participants were then told to either take it as needed or at regular intervals – four times a day – and some were also told to take steam inhalation.
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