Antidepressants could help recovery after a stroke - even in patients who are not depressed, research suggests.
The drugs could reduce dependence, physical disability, depression and anxiety in the first year after a stroke, according to the study which is published in the Cochrane Library.
Antidepressants could promote the growth of new nerve cells in the brain or protect other cells damaged by stroke, the authors suggest.
And by preventing depression they may encourage more patients to be physically active, they suggest.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh examined 52 studies concerning selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
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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.
"Also, by preventing depression, the drugs may help patients to be more physically active which is known to aid overall recovery.
"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, added: "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.
"The results of this meta-analysis are very encouraging and highlight the need for further clinical research trials.
"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."
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