Anti-depressants may help stroke patients recover, according to research presented at the UK Stroke Forum.  An analysis of 52 studies, involving 4,000 people, showed the drugs could reduce disability as well as depression.

However, researchers said they did not understand exactly how the drugs helped the brain recover.

The Stroke Association said the results were very encouraging, but it was too soon to offer the drugs to patients.

Many small studies have investigated the benefits of anti-depressants in stroke patients, but the results have ranged from no benefit to huge benefits.

This latest analysis brings all the earlier research together to try to find out if there is an effect.

Gillian Mead, a professor of stroke and elderly care medicine at the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC that a rough estimate of the effect was that treating 20 patients with anti-depressants could prevent one of them becoming depending on care.

She said: “We know the drugs act on the brain and they may, and it’s important to say may, be able to help nerve cells to change function or lead to the growth of new nerve cells.”

Thorough trials involving large numbers of stroke patients are still needed to determine if the drugs should be given to patients.

“This review suggests these drugs have a promising effect on recovery from stroke but, I wouldn’t want people to think this supports routine use of anti-depressants,” Prof Mead said.

Dr Dale Webb, from the Stroke Association charity, said: “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.”

He said the results were “very encouraging” but were still a “a long way off” offering these drugs to stroke patients.

BBC By James Gallagher