Antidepressants could help patients recover better from the physical effects of a stroke, a study finds.
Research published by the Cochrane Library suggested that the benefits are felt by stroke patients regardless of whether or not they are diagnosed with depression.
The drugs could reduce dependence, physical disability, depression and anxiety in the first year after a stroke by promoting the growth of new nerve cells in the brain or by protecting damaged cells, the authors said.
Another effect of the antidepressants is that by preventing depression they may encourage more patients to be physically active, the study suggested.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh examined 52 studies concerning selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Professor Gillian Mead, professor of stroke and elderly care medicine at the university, said: “Antidepressants have been successfully used for many years to relieve depression.
“However, it now appears that they also have effects on the brain that may help patients make a better recovery from the physical effects of stroke.
“The results of this meta-analysis are extremely promising. We do not yet fully understand how antidepressants could boost recovery after stroke, but it may be because they promote the growth of new nerve cells in the brain, or protect cells damaged by stroke.
“We now need to carry out a number of much larger clinical trials in order to establish exactly if, how and to what extent antidepressants can help stroke survivors recover.”
Dr Dale Webb, director of research and information at the Stroke Association, said he found the results “encouraging” and called for further clinical trials. “There are now over a million people living in the UK with the disabling effects of stroke.
“With death rates from stroke declining, it’s increasingly important to find new treatments to help survivors make their best possible recovery.
“If these trials are positive, antidepressants could reduce the disabling effects of stroke in tens of thousands of patients every year.
“However, we are a long way off this type of treatment being offered to stroke patients to reduce the physical effects of the condition. We look forward to the results of further research.”