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Compulsions in Parkinson’s Tied to Treatment

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 8, 2013 -- Parkinson’s disease itself doesn’t seem to raise a person’s risk for compulsive addictions to things like gambling, shopping, or sex, a new study shows.

Compulsive behaviors affect about 14% of Parkinson’s patients treated with drugs such as dopamine agonists to ease symptoms like tremors, stiffness, and slowness.

In severe cases, the new addictions that people develop on the drugs can be devastating -- leading to ruined finances and relationships -- and they’ve generated a raft of lawsuits against drug manufacturers.

In November, a French man won a high-profile case against the company that sells Requip, which he said turned him into a sex and gambling addict. In 2008, a Minneapolis man won a case involving gambling addiction against the maker of Mirapex.

As a result, dopamine agonists now carry warnings about compulsive behaviors on their labels.

“A missing piece to the story was whether just Parkinson’s disease itself has any effect or plays any role on the risk of having these problems” without the drugs, says researcher Daniel Weintraub, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Tracking Impulsive Symptoms in Parkinson’s Patients

In the largest such study to date, Weintraub and his team set out to answer that question by screening a group of 168 newly diagnosed and untreated people with Parkinson’s for impulsive behaviors. The researchers compared them to a similar group of 143 healthy people who didn’t have the disease.

“What we found was that the reporting of symptoms of impulse control disorders was not any different in the two groups,” Weintraub says.

For example, 1.2% of people with Parkinson’s reported problems related to gambling compared to 0.7% of the healthy group. Compulsive buying behaviors were reported by 3% of the Parkinson’s group compared to 2.1% of the healthy group. About 7% of the Parkinson’s group reported compulsive eating compared to about 11% of the other group. And compulsive sexual behaviors were reported by 4.2% of the Parkinson’s group compared to 3.5% of the healthy group.

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