Although researchers are unsure of how they do it, antidepressants have been found to improve physical recovery after stroke for many patients. And the enhanced recovery appears to continue for nine months after the medication has been halted.
Researchers discovered both depressed and non-depressed stroke patients who received antidepressant medication had greater physical recovery after stroke than patients who received placebo.
In addition, the effect compared to placebo was observed even after controlling for patients’ age, total hours of rehabilitation therapy and initial severity of stroke.
Researchers say the intriguing aspect of the study is that physical improvements continued in patients even after they stop the medication.
“The findings of this study are important because they imply that early administration of an adjunctive medication, an antidepressant, might have an effect on improving outcomes independent of the medication’s actions on mood,” said Harold Adams, M.D.
“If future studies confirm our observation regarding the use of antidepressant medications as an ancillary therapy given to people with stroke, including those without depression, the public health impact could be huge.”
The study suggests that the antidepressant medication is doing something independent of treating depression that improves physical recovery from stroke.
Senior study author, Robert Robinson, M.D., notes that although the mechanisms underlying the effect are not yet known there is evidence that antidepressants can inhibit a type of inflammatory protein that is released in the brain during stroke, and can promote growth of new cells in specific parts of the brain.
“Our hypothesis is that the antidepressant medication is blocking the inflammatory proteins that inhibit cellular growth and that’s why you get the cellular growth in certain parts of the brain,” said Robinson.
“These new neurons may also explain why the improvement continues, because for a period of months and perhaps more than a year these cells continue to develop new connections, synapses and continue to grow and augment the recovery from the stroke that disrupted those motor neurons.”
Robinson acknowledged that the study’s relatively small size and similarities among the patient population limited how generalizable the results may be.
The team aims to validate the importance of their findings by testing the effect of antidepressants on physical recovery from stroke in a much larger and more diverse group of patients.
Source: University of Iowa Health Care