Lexapro helped preserve brain function after stroke

May give doctors another way to prevent disability

The antidepressant Lexapro may help protect key thinking functions if taken soon after a stroke, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

They said people who took Forest Laboratories Inc's (FRX.N) Lexapro, or escitalopram, after a stroke recovered more of their thinking, learning and memory skills than others who had counseling-type therapy normally used to treat depression or who were given a placebo.

Doctors rush to give clot-busting drugs to stroke patients within the first three hours of the start of a stroke to prevent permanent disability.

But the study, conducted by a team at the University of Iowa, suggested giving patients an antidepressant within months after a stroke may have an added benefit of preserving brain function.

"There is growing interest in restorative therapies that can be administered during the first few months after stroke, the period within which we observe the greatest degree of spontaneous recovery of initial motor and cognitive deficits," Dr. Ricardo Jorge and colleagues wrote in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

It is not clear why Lexapro helped, but they said there is increasing evidence that antidepressants cause changes in key brain structures needed for memory and thinking -- including the visual cortex, hippocampus and cerebral cortex -- that may help explain the memory improvements.

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