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Side Effects of Parkinson’s Treatment

Updated on December 23, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Amit M. Shelat, D.O.
Article written by
Emily Wagner, M.S.

Treatments for Parkinson’s disease are given to help treat the disease or manage symptoms. While Parkinson’s treatments typically help improve quality of life, they can also have their own set of side effects.

Dopaminergic Medications and Their Side Effects

The most commonly prescribed drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease are dopaminergic medications. These drugs work by influencing levels of the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) dopamine. These drugs often work because Parkinson’s disease symptoms are caused by low levels of dopamine in the brain.

Dopaminergic medications include:

Common Side Effects of Dopaminergic Medications

As with any medication, dopaminergic medications come with side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Decreased short-term memory
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nightmares
  • Dyskinesia

While levodopa is an effective drug in treating Parkinson’s disease, long-term use can cause a condition known as dyskinesia. Dyskinesia is a side effect of treatment that causes involuntary movements such as swaying, twisting, jerking, or writhing. Amantadine drugs, sold under the brand names Gocovri and Symmetrel, can be combined with Rytary or Sinemet to treat dyskinesia while still managing Parkinson’s disease.

Rare and Serious Side Effects of Dopaminergic Medications

In rare cases, the side effects of dopaminergic medications can become serious. If you notice any of these side effects while taking dopaminergic medication, seek medical help immediately.

Serious side effects of Parkinson’s medications include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • High fever
  • Swelling of the hands, lower legs, ankles, and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast, irregular heartbeat, known as heart palpitations
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Hives
  • Chest pain
  • Bloody vomit
  • Abnormal stools (bloody, or black and tarry)
  • Psychosis
  • Risk-taking behavior

Psychosis is a serious mental condition. It can present as hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that do not exist), paranoia (not trusting others or thinking others want to hurt you), and delusions (believing false information).

Symptom Management Medications and Their Side Effects

Other medications can be used to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or side effects of the medications used to treat it. These medications commonly include Northera (droxidopa) for low blood pressure or dizziness upon standing. Antipsychotics Nuplazid (pimavanserin) and Seroquel (quetiapine) are also prescribed for psychotic symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations.

Common Side Effects of Symptom Management Medications

Medications that help manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or its treatments should improve your overall quality of life. However, these drugs can come with some side effects as well, including:

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Unusual dreams
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, or hands
  • Increased appetite, which can lead to excessive weight gain

Rare and Serious Side Effects of Symptom Management Medications

Rarely, serious side effects can develop after taking medication to help manage Parkinson’s disease or treatment side effects. If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:

  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Uncontrollable muscle movements
  • Changes in mental state
  • Hives or a skin rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen tongue
  • Tightness in the neck and throat
  • Seizures
  • Excessive sweating

Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a treatment option for Parkinson’s disease that uses electrode implants placed in the brain to stimulate certain regions of the brain. This type of electrical stimulation can help treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. If you undergo DBS surgery, your surgeon will drill small holes in your skull to place the electrodes. The doctor will also place a device similar to a pacemaker in your upper chest to help control the electric signals.

There can be side effects from the surgery and the DBS treatment itself.

Common Side Effects of Deep Brain Stimulation

The electrical impulses sent through the electrodes to the brain can cause some side effects, including:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Problems with vision
  • Difficulties with speech
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle tightness in arms or face
  • Balance problems
  • Changes in mood, such as depression or anger

Rare and Serious Side Effects of Deep Brain Stimulation

Surgery is an intensive process, and it can lead to rare yet serious complications. Your neurologist and surgeon should discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure with you before surgery. Complications that can arise from surgery include:

  • Infection
  • Seizures
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Stroke
  • Breathing problems
  • Misplacement of electrodes in the brain tissue

If You Have Side Effects From Your Treatment

Before you begin treatment, your neurologist should discuss which options are best for you, considering all possible side effects. Generally, the benefits of a medication or procedure outweigh the side effects. If you find that side effects are too much to handle, talk to your doctor about other options.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyParkinsonsTeam is the social network for people with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones. On MyParkinsonsTeam, more than 81,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s disease.

Do you have any side effects with your Parkinson’s treatment? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Amit M. Shelat, D.O. is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Physicians. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here.

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