Online betting fears for Parkinson's disease patients

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The rise in online betting sites poses a particular risk for people with Parkinson's disease (PD), a medical expert has warned today.

Dr Sui Wong, neurology specialist registrar at the UK's Walton Centre, argues that people suffering from the disease could be adversely affected by betting sites as they are more likely to become gambling addicts.

PD is estimated to affect one in 200 people in the developed world, and although motor symptoms and signs of PD are well recognised, the behavioural disorders, such as problem gambling, are less well known.

More than three per cent of people with PD are pathological gamblers – an obsessive and chronic disorder that has harmful effects. This figure rises to 7.2 per cent if they are taking drugs known as dopamine agonists. In the general population one per cent of people become pathological gamblers.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today, Dr Wong says that the reasons for an increased likelihood of pathological gambling and dopamine agonist use are unclear and with the easy accessibility of online gambling more people, including PD sufferers, are likely to use them with the risk of becoming addicted.

The current debate on gambling laws and whether 'supercasinos' should be allowed in the UK, Dr Wong argues, should take PD sufferers into account.

"This provides an ideal opportunity to deal with the problem through appropriate legislation to protect a small, though highly vulnerable, group in our society," Dr Wong conclude.

This argument is backed up by a separate study in the BMJ which claims that the health effects of casinos have been ignored.

John Middleton and Farid Latif of Sandwell primary care trust argue that a prospective programme of properly funded assessment of health effects must be part of any new proposals.

Earlier this year the Department of Health insisted that there are already specialised addictions services in place which have a "long history of helping people with gambling problems".

But it added that it would work "closely" with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and other organisations involved with gambling to ensure efforts to treat addiction are coordinated.

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