When your doctor hands you a prescription, they don’t always follow the FDA-approved treatment for that drug. Many prescription drugs aren’t prescribed to treat the cause they’re best known for treating. This practice, called off-labeling, is completely legal — and totally effective, in many cases.
Sometimes, prescribing one drug to treat a seemingly unrelated condition actually becomes standard, approved medical practice. You might even be taking a medication for a use you never would have expected.
What are off-label Rx meds?
According to the Food and Drug Administration, off-label prescriptions may technically be unapproved, but they’re completely legal. A doctor, if they see fit, can prescribe a prescription drug to treat a condition the FDA hasn’t yet approved. So even though the FDA approves many beta-blockers, for example, to treat hypertension, doctors sometimes prescribe them to treat other conditions as well, like ADHD. Here are a few common examples of drugs that can treat more than one disease.
Adderall — for ADHD and weight loss
According to Livestrong.com, Adderall — primarily used to treat ADHD — has an unintentional side effect: weight loss. Under careful medical supervision, some patients who don’t have ADHD can take Adderall to help them lose weight. Healthline warns that you should only use this medication as a weight loss aid if your doctor has specifically prescribed it for that purpose. Never, ever take a medication for purposes other than its intended use.
Gabapentin — for epilepsy and anxiety
Some drugs approved to treat conditions with physical symptoms might also effectively treat “invisible illnesses” like depression or anxiety. Gabapentin, a drug commonly used to treat seizure disorders, may also be able to treat mental health conditions like anxiety. Researchers are still looking into its effectiveness in treating psychiatric conditions.
Viagra — for ED and heart health
Sometimes scientists develop drugs intending to use them for one thing, and accidentally discover they’re more effective at treating something else. Best known for its role as an erectile dysfunction drug for men, Viagra has a much broader range of possible off-label uses. In fact, Forbes says researchers originally developed and studied the drug in an attempt to treat a specific heart condition. More recent studies have found that Viagra might benefit your heart after all — at least for heart patients.
Trazodone — for depression and insomnia
According to Consumer Reports, Trazodone is an FDA-approved antidepressant. Doctors also sometimes prescribe this drug in lower dosages to treat sleep problems like insomnia in people who do not have depression. As is often the case, using a drug to treat sleep disturbances may be especially effective if a patient experiences adverse effects from taking more traditional sleep aids.
Singulair — for allergies and COPD
Singulair is a leukotriene blocker, a type of drug normally used to treat asthma symptoms. Mayo Clinic says these types of drugs are sometimes also used to relieve symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A collection of lung diseases that become progressively worse over time, COPD makes breathing extremely difficult. Drugs like Singulair may be effective if you experience side effects while taking other COPD medications.
Clonidine — for hypertension and ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can make it difficult for sufferers to concentrate and function in everyday life. Many people with ADHD take prescription medications to help them focus and complete tasks. According to Healthline, doctors sometimes prescribe clonidine in cases where stimulants or antidepressants don’t relieve a patient’s ADHD symptoms. It’s normally classified as a drug to treat hypertension, however.