Drugs for Parkinson’s: The Shocking Side Effects

There are 2 main categories of drugs for Parkinson’s Disease, and both have powerful side effects: levodopa, which makes many patients shaky with dyskinesia, and dopamine agonists, which can make turn people into gamblers, sex addicts or hit them with ‘sleep attacks’ — including when they’re driving. This is the story of DA.

At least 1 million people in the US and an estimated 10 million worldwide live with Parkinson’s, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disorder (Alzheimer’s ranks first). Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the central nervous system, is caused by a degeneration of nerve cells in certain parts of the brain that produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine, commonly known for it’s role in controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure center, is partly responsible for starting a circuit of messages that coordinate normal movement.

In the absence (or with substantial reduction, more than 80% percent of the normal level) of dopamine, the neurons — called dopamine receptors— in the brain’s striatum are not adequately stimulated. In simple language, as a person’s brain slowly stops producing dopamine, a person has less and less ability to regulate his or her movements, body, and emotions. The result is impaired movement with tremors, slowness, stiffness or balance problems. Lesser known symptoms include depression, apathy and dementia.

After examining 2.7 million reports of drug reactions submitted to an FDA database between 2003 and 2012, researchers published a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that independently corroborated that a disproportionate number of people living with PD have reported impulse control disorders.

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