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Antidepressants May Aid Stroke Rehabilitation

Stroke Patients Taking Prozac Recovered More Physical Function Than Those on Placebo

Significant Improvement in Function continued...

“We’re not talking about a couple of points on the scale as happens in Alzheimer’s disease where the improvement in barely noticeable,” says Robinson, who co-authored an editorial on the study. “We’re talking about patients who are a whole category improved. We’re talking about clinically and significantly bigger improvement for the patient and their family.”

Robinson has conducted similar studies, one with the drug Prozac and other with the drug Lexapro, which followed patients for up to a year after their strokes.

“Even when you stop the drug, the recovery continues for at least another nine months,” he says.

How Antidepressants May Heal the Brain

Robinson says he believes that SSRI antidepressants may help to heal the brain after a stroke in two ways.

“If you have a stroke, the glial cells, the white cells in the brain, release these inflammatory proteins,” Robinson says. “Antidepressants decrease the amount of inflammation produced by the stroke.”

The drugs then encourage the growth of new nerve cells, called neurons, and increase the connections between nerve cells. These actions essentially rewire the brain, making it better able to connect with the rest of the body.

SSRI Antidepressants Relatively Safe, Inexpensive

Roger Bonomo, MD, director of stroke care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the study, notes that many people are already given antidepressants after their strokes, though they are usually prescribed to treat depression, which can be a common problem after brain injury.

“The treatment of people with strokes with antidepressants is not so new. It’s the idea that you can help their motor function is what’s new here,” Bonomo says.

“I think what’s also important about the subject is that it means that people probably need medication,” he says. “Talk therapy doesn’t seem to be sufficient.”

He says SSRI antidepressants have relatively few side effects, so they are low risk even for people with cardiovascular disease.

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