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Prozac Helps Stroke Patients Recover Motor Skills, Study Says

Taking Eli Lilly & Co.’s Prozac helped stroke patients recover motor skills, according to a study confirming findings that antidepressants may have additional benefits.

Patients who took Prozac, which is available as a generic drug, starting 5 to 10 days after their strokes showed a significant improvement in motor function compared with those who took a placebo, French researchers wrote today in the medical journal Lancet Neurology. All 118 patients in the study had paralysis or weakness on one side of the body and received physical therapy.

The study is the largest to date examining the effects of a class of medicines known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, on stroke recovery, according to the research. Prozac, also known as fluoxetine, protects the brain and promotes the generation of nerve cells, making it a promising and inexpensive treatment option for stroke, the scientists said.

“Because depression is common after stroke, and depression is associated with poorer outcomes, there has been growing interest in the use of antidepressant drugs as an adjunctive treatment to augment recovery,” said Robert Robinson and Harold Adams, of the University of Iowa’s departments of psychiatry and neurology, in a commentary published with the study. The research “has substantial implications for the care of patients.”

Stroke Effect

Stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, causing paralysis or death, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization. Each year, stroke affects 15 million people globally, killing one-third of them and permanently disabling another third, the United Nations agency said on its website.

Patients taking Prozac improved their scores on the Fugl-Meyer Motor Scale by an average of 34 points after three months, compared with 24.3 points for those taking placebo, the study found.

While the findings bolster those of smaller trials, more research is needed before the drug is widely prescribed, Robinson and Adams wrote. The results were limited by the number of patients and the lack of follow-up after three months of treatment, the researchers said.

The Public French National Program for Clinical Research funded the study. Eli Lilly is based in Indianapolis.

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