Dopamine agonists are a form of drug that treats conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine agonists imitate dopamine, which is a chemical that is important for various physical and mental functions.

Low levels of dopamine are linked to depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease.

Read on to learn more about how dopamine agonists work, what conditions they treat, and their side effects.

A variety of drugs that may include dopamine agonists.Share on Pinterest
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Dopamine agonists are prescription drugs that treat conditions that occur due to dopamine loss. A person may use dopamine agonists alone, or alongside other drugs and treatments.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that passes signals from nerve cells to other cells of the body. Dopamine helps with functions such as movement, memory, mood, learning, and cognition.

If a person does not have enough dopamine, they can develop certain medical conditions.

Dopamine agonists help to take the place of dopamine in a person’s body.

There are various FDA-approved dopamine agonists available, including:

  • pramipexole (Mirapex)
  • ropinirole (Requip)
  • apomorphine injection (Apokyn)
  • rotigotine (Neupro)

Doctors prescribe different dopamine agonists to treat different symptoms and conditions.

In the body, there are two types of dopamine receptors, which both have different subgroups. Dopamine receptors receive dopamine, creating a signal for a specific function to occur, such as movement. The different types of dopamine receptors are responsible for different mental and physical functions.

The two types of dopamine receptors are D1-like dopamine receptors and D2-like dopamine receptors. The D1-like dopamine receptor group contains the subtypes D1 and D5. The D2-like dopamine receptor group contains D2, D3, and D4 subtypes.

Dopamine agonists bind to the D1-like and D2-like dopamine receptors. By doing so, they activate the dopamine receptors in the same way that dopamine does. This means that dopamine agonists can help to relieve symptoms that occur due to low dopamine levels.

Dopamine agonists can be used to treat various conditions, such as:

In the treatment of advanced Parkinson’s disease, doctors prescribed dopamine agonists alongside the drug levodopa (Duopa).

However, according to the World Health Organization, healthcare professionals discovered that a person can take dopamine agonists by themselves to delay motor function impairments.

Dopamine agonists are not as effective as levodopa, but they are less likely to cause erratic, involuntary movements.

Dopamine agonists can have different side effects depending on the drug used, length of use, and dosage. A person may also be more likely to experience dopamine agonist side effects if they are over 65 years old.

Common side effects of dopamine agonists include:

Long term use of dopamine agonists can cause side effects such as:

Other side effects of dopamine agonists include:

  • sleep attacks, where a person falls asleep suddenly
  • daytime tiredness
  • yawning
  • sedation
  • drowsiness
  • leg swelling

If a person experiences any side effects while taking dopamine agonists, they should speak with a doctor. The Parkinson’s Foundation notes that a doctor can adjust a person’s dosage, or timing of doses to remove or limit side effects.

Dopamine agonists can also interact with certain drugs, foods, or supplements. It is important that a person tells a doctor about any other medication they are taking before starting dopamine agonists.

A person should also tell a doctor if they are pregnant or nursing before taking dopamine agonists.

Dopamine agonists can cause a person to develop more severe side effects. A person who is concerned about the risks of dopamine agonists should speak with a doctor about their medication.

Serious side effects of dopamine agonists include:

Impulse control disorders

A person who takes dopamine agonists may also have a higher chance of developing impulse control disorders. Impulse control disorders can include gambling, excessive spending, or an increased sex drive.

Research from 2018 found that approximately 46% of people taking dopamine agonists for Parkinson’s disease developed impulse control disorders over 5 years.

Researchers also found that length of use and increased dosage of dopamine agonists were associated with impulse control disorders. Impulse control disorders gradually disappeared after people stopped taking dopamine agonists.

Withdrawal symptoms

Coming off dopamine agonists can also be harmful. A study from 2017 found that up to 19% of people who stop taking dopamine agonists experience withdrawal symptoms.

If a person suddenly stops taking their dopamine agonist medication, they can develop a serious condition called neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

Neuroleptic malignant syndrome can cause a person to have symptoms such as:

A person should make sure they do not stop taking dopamine agonists suddenly. A doctor can help a person safely come off dopamine agonists if it is necessary.

If a person experiences severe or worrying symptoms while taking dopamine agonists, they should speak with a doctor immediately.

Dopamine agonists are a type of drug used to mimic the effects of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps with various mental and physical functions. A person can take dopamine agonists for a number of different conditions.

A person may experience certain side effects while taking dopamine agonists. Side effects from dopamine agonists range from mild to severe. Dopamine agonists can increase a person’s chances of developing impulse control disorders.

Suddenly coming off dopamine agonist medication can cause a person to develop withdrawal symptoms. A person should not stop taking dopamine agonists unless under guidance from a doctor.

If a person has any serious or worrying side effects while taking dopamine agonists, they should speak with a doctor immediately.