Mirapex: A Miracle Treatment with Troubling Effects for Some

Mirapex: A Miracle Treatment with Troubling Effects for Some

Sherri Journeying Through


Mirapex (pramipexole), a common treatment for Parkinson’s disease, is believed to work by boosting the action of whatever dopamine is available, which is low in people with Parkinson’s. It is a dopamine agonist that directly stimulates nerves in the brain that are not naturally being stimulated by dopamine
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Several years ago, my doctor diagnosed me with Parkinson’s. Immediately, he placed me on Mirapex (pramipexole dihydrochloride). I can’t say that I’ve had a problem with this particular medication, except that sometimes I felt as if I could lie down right where I was and have a glorious nap about half an hour after taking it.

Although I haven’t had many side effects, others have. Just as PD affects each individual differently, so do the medications.

My reactions were mild, and yet at each checkup, my doctor did not fail to ask if I had started having addictive behaviors with gambling, shopping, or sex. Fortunately, I was able to answer no to his questions, but that is not the case with three people I became acquainted with through a PD support group I belong to through Facebook. I am going to call them Cora, Jim, and Carl.

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Cora’s father is a PD patient and has taken Mirapex for two years. During this time, he developed serious gambling problems, delusions, and hallucinations.

Meanwhile, Jim had been taking Mirapex for restless leg syndrome (RLS), often a complication of PD. He read up on some undesirable side effects that included compulsive gambling, excessive spending, and compulsive, excessive sexual behavior.

What disturbed Jim most was that patients taking Mirapex often are unaware that a change is occurring. Jim began engaging in several of these atypical behaviors. He was unaware that they were actually becoming addictive behaviors. Fortunately for Jim, his doctor recognized that Mirapex was causing the addictions. Jim thought he was the only one with these side effects until his doctor put him in touch with Carl.

Carl first noticed his bowel movements had changed and constipation was regular. He gained 40 pounds in the first five months and couldn’t sleep. He understood it was the medication but had another issue: He was embarrassed by the things he couldn’t seem to quit doing. He never read the informational insert inside the drug box. He was just following the doctor’s orders.

Carl began to lose control sexually, and his internet use became an outlet for improper behavior. He was ashamed and felt isolated in his problem. He went to see a new neurologist and discovered he wasn’t alone. Several other PD patients who were prescribed Mirapex were dealing with similar issues. [Such extreme side effects in Mirapex users are considered unusual, but are known and reported. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s list of common and uncommon reactions; here’s a similar one on Drugs.com. The possibility of “unusual urges” — gambling, compulsive eating, compulsive buying, and increased sex drive —  is also noted on Mirapex’s online information page.]

Carl’s neurologist diagnosed the problem and he stopped the drug. Sheryl, however, lost everything to gambling before learning the likely cause of her problem. After her house, savings, retirement, husband and children were gone, and she found herself taking money from the church offering, she sought help. Her doctor, too, took her off Mirapex, and her gambling urges ceased.

I also came to know a woman I’ll call Becky. Her story isn’t as devastating, unless you count Becky’s painting the outside of her house 17 times in one year.

While the incidence of such behavior is low — psychiatric effects are estimated to involve 0.1% to 1% of all PD and RLS Mirapex users — it is troubling. So why do physicians continue to prescribe such a drug?

According to the website CanadianMedsUSA, “Mirapex eases the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder marked by muscle rigidity, weakness, shaking, tremor, and eventually difficulty with walking and talking. Parkinson’s disease results from a shortage of the chemical messenger dopamine in certain areas of the brain. Mirapex is believed to work by boosting the action of whatever dopamine is available.”

With relief like that, it’s hard to not want to take it. It also is a miracle drug of sorts for RLS, providing relief almost instantaneously.

Chances are that your doctor will prescribe Mirapex if your diagnosis is PD or RLS, and most likely you will experience some sort of side effect while you’re on it. It is extremely important to keep the communication open between you and your doctor and to make sure you’re checking in regularly.

Each case is different. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you begin to notice changes or to feel different. You may be fine. It may be nothing. Nevertheless, your health is ultimately your responsibility and hesitation could be costly. Be proactive in your care. It could be what saves your family, your job, and your life.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease. 

Sherri was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease over fifteen years ago. She can be found working in her garden, going for walks, taking pictures, or reading books to her three favorite grandkids. Taking life somewhat slower, and perhaps with guarded steps, but she’s not giving in.
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Sherri was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease over fifteen years ago. She can be found working in her garden, going for walks, taking pictures, or reading books to her three favorite grandkids. Taking life somewhat slower, and perhaps with guarded steps, but she’s not giving in.

17 comments

  1. David Hewitt says:

    I could have told you this info 12 yrs ago. Miropexin cost me my house and nearly my family. Gambling was never mentioned on the original info sheet that comes in packet, but with the mention of going to court it soon appeared. L still have both info sheets.

  2. Hal says:

    I had problems with online shopping with Mirapex. Now I have credit card debt that I can’t really handle.

    I am now using Requip / ropinerole for RLS with pretty good success at 2 mg. at night (non-PD related RLS.)

    I haven’t had any trouble with unusual urges, but do have blurry vision at night.

    Butorphanol also seems to help with RLS when I happen to take it for migraine (this is an opiod med.)

    My father does have PD, and is also tormented by RLS.

    I was prescribed gabapentin for RLS, and ended up with serious dental problems; cavities and perhaps the need for a root canal. It didn’t work well for the RLS either. Mirapex had some effect, but not enough.

  3. M.R. Borscht says:

    For the past 18 months I have been taking generic Mirapex for treatment-resistant depression as has my twin brother (identical). The side effect has been hypersexuality — not “out-of-control” (and not altogether unpleasant to be honest) — but distracting and leading to some border-line compulsive internet use…. I don’t have the time luxury for this at this stage of my life. Exact same with my twin brother. I went down from 3mg to 1pm a few months ago and now have gone down to 1/2mg intending to phase it out entirely if I can do that without having the depression return (Mirapex is part of a mix I take, so we’ll see). MY POINT IS THIS: I JUST DON’T BELIEVE THAT THE COMPULSIVITY SIDE EFFECTS ARE RARE – I can’t prove that on data but these complaints are just too common from other patients for it to be rare —

    • Matt – Thanks for your comment. I can’t say whether it’s rare or not either, but you sure tend to want to think it isn’t. It may get put into a false category of being rare or uncommon (hte side effects) because people are embarrassed to talk about their experience with the medication’s interactions.

    • Ted L. Nancy says:

      I fully agree with M.R. 100% this drug messed my father up, and my parents lost friends and a family member to it because of the odd behavior. The issue is that a lot of these doctors don’t ask about the deep behavioral issues that are sometimes embarrassing to the patients but could be helpful to the prescriptions and research. It’s really sad and I feel bad for people suffering with PD that have to go through another layer of awfulness because of greed with the drug companies. Fix your stupid drug, do more research or pull it off the market.

      • Mark Merrifield says:

        It took 9 months for me to begin to have any kind of impulse problem. I have always controlled my money extremely well and the possibility of me blowing my money seemed ridicules. But, I was only aware of the gambling and reckless spending part. Sexual impulses are a little more confusing. I did not see that problem coming. Sexual impulses are not measured in dollars and it is not easy to understand what is happening to you when you are blind sided by this kind of impulse. 1%, my a##! My problem is I have refractory depression and the one drug that helps just happens to be Mirapex.

  4. Sherri says:

    I have taken Mirapex for 20 yrs. for RLS. I wasn’t aware of the side affects but have experienced them all. I was in denial that anything was wrong, blamed the problems on everyone else, and nearly ruined my life. A new Dr. was appalled that I had taken it that long so I am now trying to reduce my dosage with the end result of deleting it from my life. It is so difficult to stop using this drug. Wish I had never started it.

  5. Pearl says:

    I have just read this article and was absolutely blown away by it. I started taking Mirapex over a year ago for RLS and have a serious internet shopping and overspending problem. I had always been so in control when it came to money. I’ve been so perplexed. Could this really be the cause? I’m just stunned.

    • Hi Pearl – I’m sorry to say that, yes, there is a great possibility that this could be the cause which is why it is so important to get into your doctor right away. I have more information on my blog about this medication and the ramifications it has had in other patients. It might not be the problem, and I am no doctor, but I’d say the chances are there. Please make an appt with your neurologist as soon as you can. My blog is http://www.parkinsonsjourney.com

  6. J says:

    Not sure where that 1% came from. One of the most conservative studies done showed 17% will experience compulsive side effects and even that study concludes the incidence is likely higher due to not embarrassment and/or not realizing there is a problem. Taking an altered form of Meth to cope with a disease seams like pure insanity.

  7. Antony says:

    I don’t think my partner’s problem with this drug is addiction although she does like clothes shopping, but I think she was like this before although I didn’t know her then.Her problem with this drug I think is that she has developed dystonia and tremor. I have read that Pramipexole can cause these things. She has a bent over gait from middle back.She also falls straight asleep as soon as she takes it. She just completely goes unconscious it’s quite scary to be honest. She often falls asleep in the cinema as well as she has to take this drug so her legs don’t start. It’s a vicious circle really and I think she gets quite frustrated with it as she usually wants to enjoy a film with me. It’s probably the least of her problems at the moment as the Urologist has found a growth in her bladder. But it is an awful drug. Has anyone else developed dystonic or parkinsonism symptoms from this drug.There is a very good academic book in this subject where they have done research on this drug with it’s effects on iron (she is also anaemic) but it is 208 pounds to buy once my university funding is up an running I will try and get it from my library, but at the moment my account is locked.

  8. Annie says:

    I just wanted to write in and say that I asked my doctor what the side effects were when she put me on this drug and she said “none.” NONE! I’ve been on it for 6 months now and have been needing to take it more and more. A few months ago I noticed I started having days where I could NOT get out of bed. I would take 4 2-hour naps throughout the day then sleep at night. I felt weak, foggy and swollen. It was hard to talk. On one occasion I managed to force myself to get dressed to take the dogs on a walk, got downstairs and just could not do it. I sat on the couch with the leashes in my hands and fell asleep. I also noticed my RLS was getting worse and worse- I had been starting to experience it in the car which I never had before. I also noticed my arms were becoming restless.
    So I went to the doctor with my concerns- thinking it was due to an iron deficiency (which I had had in the past). She ran a lot of blood test on me and told me that I should really just push myself to not take naps…
    When my iron, thyroid, sugar, cholesterol, etc. levels came back normal I went back and stressed that this was not normal and please help me.
    SHE NEVER EVEN THOUGHT TO MENTION IT COULD BE THE MIRAPEX SIDE EFFECTS. I randomly googled “pramipexole side effects” yesterday and all of my symptoms shows as side effects.
    I didn’t take a pill last night for the first time in a few months and I was awake until 5am.
    I’m hoping this is what is causing all of my exhaustion, weakness and fogginess…and on top of it my compulsive eating behavior.
    Thanks for this article.

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