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You might think that the scientists who develop new medicines work, um, scientifically. But often as not, there's a dose of serendipity involved. A classic example is Viagra: When male patients started popping the pill for heart pain, they unexpectedly found that it pitched a pup tent in their pants and put their sex drive overdrive (talk about a welcome side effect).
Doctors often discover that a medication they prescribe for one condition has the potential to treat another, according to Cynthia LaCivita, director of education and special projects at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in Bethesda, Maryland. Although sometimes drugmakers get a med FDA approved for an extra purpose (as Barr Pharmaceuticals did with Diamox), that takes years of study and major bucks. But docs can still prescribe it "off label" (i.e., for a secondary use). Even so, you shouldn't take a drug on your own for a problem it wasn't prescribed to treat, says William Shrank, M.D., a pharmacoepidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. "Check with your doctor in case it's not a good option for you," he advises. We got the lowdown on some common meds that offer a little something extra.
Drug: Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
Known for: Cutting down on seasonal allergy symptoms like sneezing and runny noses
But it can also: Knock you out when you can't sleep -- say, on that marathon flight to Tokyo