5 Medications Prescribed for Off-label Use


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Sildenafil Citrate (Viagra, Revatio)
A Pfizer study found that seven out of nine women on antidepressants who had problems achieving orgasm recovered when they took Viagra. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

What It Is: A phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibitor

What It's Approved to Treat: Erectile dysfunction in men or to improve the ability to exercise in adults with pulmonary arterial hypertension

Common Off-label Uses: Enhancing sexual performance in people not diagnosed with erectile dysfunction, improving sexual function in women taking certain antidepressants

CNN called it "the little blue pill that could," and Viagra has certainly made a name for itself over the last two decades. In 1989, Pfizer scientists introduced a drug called sildenafil citrate that they anticipated would help treat high blood pressure and a type of chest pain associated with coronary heart disease called angina. During the drug's clinical trials, volunteers began reporting increased erections several days after taking a dose, and in 1998, the FDA approved the use of Viagra to treat erectile dysfunction [source: Wilson].

A decade later, scientists began finding evidence that the little blue pill could potentially help some women experiencing sexual dysfunction, too. Between 30 to 70 percent of people taking antidepressants experience sexual dysfunction, and a Pfizer-funded study found that seven out of nine women on antidepressants who had problems achieving orgasm recovered when they took Viagra [source: Carollo].

Female sexual response is complicated, and the FDA hasn't approved Viagra for this use in women, but another prescription medication called flibanserin (Addyi), originally developed as an antidepressant, is FDA-approved to treat low sexual desire in premenopausal women [source: Tobah].

Author's Note:5 Medications That Are Prescribed for Off-Label Use

The conversation around the promotion of off-label prescription uses has evolved considerably over the last few years. Originally, the FDA prohibited pharmaceutical sales representatives from promoting a drug's off-label use if the medication didn't come with adequate instructions for the use. But in 2012, a court ruling deemed off-label promotions as protected free speech, as long as the statements aren't false or misleading [source: Cain]. Regardless of legal details, having open, honest, well-informed conversations with your doctor around any and all recommended medications seems like the best way to go.

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More Great Links

Sources

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  • American Heart Association. "What Is Atrial Fibrillation?" (Feb. 19, 2018). http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300294.pdf
  • Carollo, Kim. ABC News. "Viagra for Prostate Cancer? 10 Multi-Use Drugs." Sep. 28, 2010. (Feb. 19, 2018). http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MensHealth/viagra-top-multi-drugs/story?id=11738009
  • Consumer Reports. "Off-label drug prescribing: What does it mean for you?" July 2015. (Feb. 19, 2018). https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/05/off-label-drug-prescribing-what-does-it-mean-for-you/index.htm
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