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Antidepressant May Help in Stroke Recovery

Study Shows Lexapro Helps Improve Memory and Learning Skills
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 1, 2010 -- A common antidepressant may help restore brain function and aid in stroke recovery, a study shows.

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, shows treatment with Lexapro (escitalopram) improved overall thinking, learning, and memory skills in the months immediately following a stroke.

Researchers say the beneficial effect of Lexapro on stroke recovery was independent of its effect on depression and suggests that the use of antidepressants in stroke treatment merits further study.

They say there is increasing evidence that antidepressants, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), stimulate the production of compounds essential for nerve growth, which may help restore brain function such as memory and verbal skills.

"Overall, whatever may be the mechanism of improved cognitive recovery, this study has shown, for the first time, that escitalopram, an SSRI, is associated with improved cognitive recovery following stroke," write researcher Ricardo E. Jorge, MD, of the department of psychiatry at the University of Iowa and colleagues.

Despite significant improvements in stroke treatment in recent years, stroke remains a major cause of death and disability worldwide.

The most effective stroke treatment, clot-dissolving drugs, must be used within the first few hours after a stroke begins, which limits the number of stroke patients who can benefit from it.

Therefore, there has been great interest in developing stroke treatments that can be administered in the first few months after stroke, the period in which the most significant stroke recovery occurs.

In the study, researchers examined the effects of treatment with Lexapro in 129 non-depressed stroke patients in the first three months after stroke. The participants were divided into three groups and randomly assigned to take either Lexapro, a placebo pill, or receive problem-solving therapy for 12 weeks.

The results showed that those stroke patients who received Lexapro had higher scores on tests of thinking, learning, and memory function as well as verbal and visual memory.

“Importantly, the reported changes in neuropsychological performance resulted in an improvement in related activities of daily living,” write the researchers.

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