A recent Online journal article described a bizarre side-effect of Parkinsons disease therapy. Eleven patients taking a dopamine agonist developed pathological gambling behavior. Dopamine agonist therapy is used to control movement problems caused by Parkinsons disease.
Parkinsons disease results in death of the neurons of an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Treatments include drugs that restore balance in the brain chemical signaling system dependent on dopamine, a chemical that helps regulate movement, balance and walking. Dopamine also plays a role in the brain's behavioral reward system. It has been implicated in the reward of gambling behavior.
M. Leann Dodd, M.D. and his colleagues describe the clinical features of 11 patients who developed gambling problems with this treatment. They report that these patients were among the many patients treated in the Mayo Clinic movement disorders clinic between 2002 and 2004. This may mean that this is actually a rare side-effect of these medications.
If you take a dopamine agonist for Parkinson's Disease or for any other problem, don't stop. Discuss these issues with your doctor if you have concerns. If you have developed a gambling problem, then discuss this with your doctor too.
Reference: M. Leann Dodd, MD; Kevin J. Klos, MD; James H. Bower, MD; Yonas E. Geda, MD; Keith A. Josephs, MST, MD; J. Eric Ahlskog, PhD, MD, Pathological Gambling Caused by Drugs Used to Treat Parkinson Disease, Archives of Neurology 2005; 62:1-5. Last edited 11/04/05