Alternating antipyretics: is this an alternative?

Pediatrics. 2000 May;105(5):1009-12. doi: 10.1542/peds.105.5.1009.


Objectives: To identify current fever management strategies and their basis, and to assess the frequency of alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Background: Practicing pediatricians confront the dilemma of elevated temperature and the anxiety this creates for parents. An informal survey of pediatricians revealed a variety of management strategies, including alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen. There are no scientific data regarding alternating these 2 products. Design. During professional meetings, pediatricians voluntarily filled out a 15-item questionnaire.

Results: One hundred sixty-one completed surveys were reviewed. Respondents were mostly general pediatricians (67.7%), with >/=20 years in practice (55.9%). Most respondents chose a temperature of 101(o)F to start antipyretic treatment (61.9%). A small percentage used discomfort alone as the indication (13%). The antipyretic of choice was temperature-dependent in 50% of respondents; 57% used ibuprofen for temperature >/=102 degrees F. Fifty percent of respondents advised parents to alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The method of alternation varied. The most common answers given for choosing a particular antipyretic regime were recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (29%) and opinions of colleagues and mentors (25%). Physicians with <5 years of practice were significantly more likely to alternate antipyretics (69.7%).

Conclusion: Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are commonly being used in an alternating manner for management of fever. There is presently no scientific evidence that this combination is safe or achieves faster antipyresis than either agent alone. There is evidence that the improper use of these agents may cause harm. Despite 29% of participants citing American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations as the basis for fever management, no such policy or recommendations exist. The observation that this practice is more common in younger practitioners may reflect their continued anxiety about fever (fever phobia). Until properly controlled studies have assessed the risk of combining these 2 products, practitioners should proceed with caution.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen / therapeutic use*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen