Together for Short Lives
Call the Helpline 0808 8088 100

Combined and alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen therapy for febrile children

Journal title
The Cochrane database of systematic reviews
Publication year
Wong, T.; Stang, A. S.; Ganshorn, H.; Hartling, L.; Maconochie, I. K.; Thomsen, A. M.; Johnson, D. W.

BACKGROUND: Health professionals frequently recommend fever treatment regimens for children that either combine paracetamol and ibuprofen or alternate them. However, there is uncertainty about whether these regimens are better than the use of single agents, and about the adverse effect profile of combination regimens. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects and side effects of combining paracetamol and ibuprofen, or alternating them on consecutive treatments, compared with monotherapy for treating fever in children. SEARCH METHODS: In September 2013, we searched Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register; Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); MEDLINE; EMBASE; LILACS; and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (2009-2011). SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomized controlled trials comparing alternating or combined paracetamol and ibuprofen regimens with monotherapy in children with fever. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: One review author and two assistants independently screened the searches and applied inclusion criteria. Two authors assessed risk of bias and graded the evidence independently. We conducted separate analyses for different comparison groups (combined therapy versus monotherapy, alternating therapy versus monotherapy, combined therapy versus alternating therapy). MAIN RESULTS: Six studies, enrolling 915 participants, are included.Compared to giving a single antipyretic alone, giving combined paracetamol and ibuprofen to febrile children can result in a lower mean temperature at one hour after treatment (MD -0.27 degrees Celsius, 95% CI -0.45 to -0.08, two trials, 163 participants, moderate quality evidence). If no further antipyretics are given, combined treatment probably also results in a lower mean temperature at four hours (MD -0.70 degrees Celsius, 95% CI -1.05 to -0.35, two trials, 196 participants, moderate quality evidence), and in fewer children remaining or becoming febrile for at least four hours after treatment (RR 0.08, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.42, two trials, 196 participants, moderate quality evidence). Only one trial assessed a measure of child discomfort (fever associated symptoms at 24 hours and 48 hours), but did not find a significant difference in this measure between the treatment regimens (one trial, 156 participants, evidence quality not graded).In practice, caregivers are often advised to initially give a single agent (paracetamol or ibuprofen), and then give a further dose of the alternative if the child’s fever fails to resolve or recurs. Giving alternating treatment in this way may result in a lower mean temperature at one hour after the second dose (MD -0.60 degrees Celsius, 95% CI -0.94 to -0.26, two trials, 78 participants, low quality evidence), and may also result in fewer children remaining or becoming febrile for up to three hours after it is given (RR 0.25, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.55, two trials, 109 participants, low quality evidence). One trial assessed child discomfort (mean pain scores at 24, 48 and 72 hours), finding that these mean scores were lower, with alternating therapy, despite fewer doses of antipyretic being given overall (one trial, 480 participants, low quality evidence)Only one small trial compared alternating therapy with combined therapy. No statistically significant differences were seen in mean temperature, or the number of febrile children at one, four or six hours (one trial, 40 participants, very low quality evidence).There were no serious adverse events in the trials that were directly attributed to the medications used. AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS: There is some evidence that both alternating and combined antipyretic therapy may be more effective at reducing temperatures than monotherapy alone. However, the evidence for improvements in measures of child discomfort remains inconclusive. There is insufficient evidence to know which of combined or alternating therapy might be more beneficial.Future research needs to measure child discomfort using standardized tools, and assess the safety of combined and alternating antipyretic therapy.

Research abstracts