Antidepressants may help recoveryfrom weakness or paralysis on one side

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Monday, January 31, 2011; 5:40 PM

Stroke

Antidepressants may help recoveryfrom weakness or paralysis on one side

THE QUESTION One type of antidepressant, called an SSRI (or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), acts beneficially on a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Might such an antidepressant help people regain motor skills after a stroke has left them weak or paralyzed on one side of the body?

THIS STUDY involved 118 people, most in their 60s, who had an ischemic stroke (the type caused by a blood clot) that resulted in weakness or paralysis on one side. Within 10 days of the stroke, they were randomly assigned to take 20 milligrams of the SSRI fluoxetine (usually sold as Prozac) or a placebo daily. All participants were given physical therapy. After three months, those taking fluoxetine showed more improvement in both arm and leg motor skills than those who took the placebo. In addition, more of those who took the drug rather than the placebo had regained independence in their daily lives, and depression was less common among those in the fluoxetine group than in the placebo group. The antidepressant was described as well tolerated with few side effects, such as mild and short-lived nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People who had a stroke and lost movement abilities, a frequent aftereffect. A stroke, which interrupts blood flow to the brain either because of a clot or a burst blood vessel, occurs once every 40 seconds in the United States, affecting an estimated 795,000 people a year.

CAVEATS Whether improvements persisted after the medication was stopped was not determined. Not all participants received exactly the same physical therapy.

FIND THIS STUDY February issue of the Lancet Neurology (www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/issue/current).

LEARN MORE ABOUT stroke at www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders and www.strokeassociation.org.

- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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