Parkinson's Meds Help -- But May Cause Scary Side Effects

Last updated: June 30, 2008
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Worried that your parent gambles too much? Or maybe you've noticed she buys loads of things she doesn't need from TV shopping channels? If she also has Parkinson's disease, the culprit may be her medication.

A new study, from the University of Pennsylvania, isn't the first to make the link, but it's the largest to date, involving more than 3,000 people. It finds that dopamine agents used to treat Parkinson's symptoms place people at higher risk for impulse-control disorders. The risk is two to three times higher for such disorders as:

  • Problem or pathological gambling
  • Compulsive buying
  • Compulsive sexual behavior
  • Binge eating

It seems that dopamine helps motor control but also affects the part of the brain involved with reward systems. The effect held true both for levodopa and for dopamine agonists (pramipexole, ropinirole, pergolide). Thirteen percent of Parkinson's patients on these meds had at least one impulse disorder -- and more than a third of that number experienced multiple disorders.

What's the message here for all of us?

  1. Odd behaviors may not be what they seem (and are usually a red flag of some kind).
  2. It's not enough for your parent to be informed about the side effects of medications being taken -- caregivers need to be aware of them, too.

Image by Flickr user Shoshanah, used under the Creative Commons attribution license.

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6 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

about 2 years ago

My husband has parkinson's and he is a compulsive buyer. He is on levo-dopa. Now I understand his weird behavior foR wanting to buy everything he sees,especially shoes. I, myself, take Pramipexole but its not for Parkinson's but for bad leg cramps.I too, have a compulsion to overbuy....on food.From now on I'll have to try to control myself better, knowing this habit is caused by my meds.

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Anonymous said over 2 years ago

Meds can change your PFP's entire personality. Does s/he compulsively buy knick knacks or expensive boats, cars, houses. Is s/he gambling? A lotto ticket a week can quickly become several maxed credit cards (taken in YOUR NAME) to gamble online. Agonists can make your "straight arrow" become promiscuous. If you, the Caregiver, are overwhelmed...enlist professional help, starting with your Movement Disorders Neurologist. Ask to discuss these issues without your PFP in the room...especially, if you cannot force her/him to modify behavior. National organizations and pros won't be "nitty gritty" about this. So, I will tell you that I know several situations that ended in bankruptcy, families split asunder & suicide. Soc Granny, *PFP Logon to *People Fighting Parkinson" on Facebook

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about 3 years ago

I have the same problem with my mom, she buys all kinds of junk food and keeps it in her office/computer room where she stays from the time she gets up till she goes to bed about 13 hr. a day everyday! She stays on her computer playing games if i dont bring her something to eat and drink she rarely comes out for ANYTHING she dosent even let her dogs out anymore if i wasnt here they would be going potty on the floor this is becomming exausting for me i DO EVERYTHING she also has a problem with lottery tickets ive tried talking to her dr (Igo to all appts. with her) but she just denies everything then i look like the bad guy i dont know what to do anymore

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about 3 years ago

My husband has been on this for 10 years and we've not had any problems with compulsive behavior! I guess you really need to look at the operative words in the title of the article "MAY CAUSE"!

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about 3 years ago

MY mom has some of these behaviors now i know what could be causing them, thank you i am alone in this except for the info i get from your website it is hard caring for someone you love when there is no help from anywhere

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Anonymous said about 4 years ago

I agree...this is the first I've seen of this, and it explains a lot. My dad compulsively buys junk food. The more he's told to eat healthy food, the more he buys. The kitchen is overflowing with it. He is about to have his driver's license taken next week, after a scary interstate incident. I guarantee he'll freak out about not being able to go out and buy food.

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