Migraines & Off Label Uses of Prescription Medications: Part I

As I've discussed in previous articles on this blog, the Food & Drug Administration has a very specific, strict set of policies and procedures for approving a medication for treating or preventing a particular condition.

However, as many of you likely already know through personal experience, doctors often prescribe medications for off label purposes. Read on for more information about this practice.

Particularly when treating conditions like chronic migraine disease, for which there are limited FDA approved medications, doctors must become creative in looking for different options for those patients. Although drug manufacturers are legally forbidden from promoting their products for off label uses, there are no restrictions on doctors prescribing drugs for off label purposes.

In reality appropriate use of off label prescribing may be beneficial, not just for drug companies, but also for patients. It encourages the discovery of new treatments we might otherwise never know about if no one tried them. Consider the miniscule amounts of research funds dedicated to migraine research (though we try all the time to improve this), off label trials of medications approved for other conditions is one of our best bets of finding preventive options that help even the most difficult to treat among our community of chronic migraineurs.

Furthermore, since these medications are approved for other purposes, you can easily access information about side effects and other information that can help you make a decision about whether the medication is something you feel comfortable trying. You're certainly not flying blind just because it isn't specifically approved for migraine prevention.

So if a doctor suggests trying a medication approved for treating other conditions like epilepsy, depression or fibromyalgia, don't be alarmed or surprised. This is normal and no reason to refuse to try a suggested treatment. As a patient, ultimately it is your body that bears the risk of trying a relatively new medication that we don't know much about, but if you otherwise feel comfortable with the option, don't be afraid to give it a try even if it isn't yet specifically approved for migraine disease.

Please stay tuned for part two of this article, which addresses paying for off label uses of medications.

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