Interventions for preventing depression after stroke

The role of interventions for preventing depression after stroke is unclear. Depression is a common and important complication of stroke that is often missed or poorly managed. Little is known about whether treatment started early after stroke will reduce the risk of depression and improve recovery. This review of 14 trials, involving 1515 participants, found no evidence that antidepressant drugs prevent depression or improve physical recovery after stroke. Two trials showed that psychological therapy could improve patients' mood and prevent depression, but did not improve other outcomes. The generalisability of these findings to all stroke survivors is limited due to the small proportion of survivors who are eligible to participate in these clinical trials. More well-designed clinical trials are needed that test practical interventions for preventing depression across all stroke survivors.

Authors' conclusions: 

A small but significant effect of psychotherapy on improving mood and preventing depression was identified. More evidence is required before recommendations can be made about the routine use of such treatments after stroke.

Read the full abstract...

Depression is an important consequence of stroke that impacts on recovery yet often is not detected or is inadequately treated.


To determine if pharmaceutical or psychological interventions can prevent depression and improve physical and psychological outcomes in patients with stroke.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Trials Registers of the Cochrane Stroke Group (October 2007) and the Cochrane Depression Anxiety and Neurosis Group (February 2008). In addition, we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library, Issue 1, 2008), MEDLINE (1966 to May 2006), EMBASE (1980 to May 2006), CINAHL (1982 to May 2006), PsycINFO (1967 to May 2006), Applied Science and Technology Plus (1986 to May 2006), Arts and Humanities Index (1991 to September 2002), Biological Abstracts (1969 to September 2002), BIOSIS Previews (2002 to May 2006), General Science Plus (1994 to September 2002), Science Citation Index (1992 to May 2006), Social Sciences Citation Index (1991 to May 2006), SocioFile (1974 to May 2006) ISI Web of Science (2002 to February 2008), reference lists, trial registers, conference proceedings and dissertation abstracts, and contacted authors, researchers and pharmaceutical companies.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials comparing pharmaceutical agents with placebo, or psychotherapy against standard care (or attention control) to prevent depression in patients with stroke.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently selected trials, extracted data and assessed trial quality. Primary analyses were the proportion of patients who met the standard diagnostic criteria for depression applied in the trials at the end of follow up. Secondary outcomes included depression scores on standard scales, physical function, death, recurrent stroke and adverse effects.

Main results: 

Fourteen trials involving 1515 participants were included. Data were available for 10 pharmaceutical trials (12 comparisons) and four psychotherapy trials. The time from stroke to entry ranged from a few hours to seven months, but most patients were recruited within one month of acute stroke. The duration of treatment ranged from two weeks to one year. There was no clear effect of pharmacological therapy on the prevention of depression or other endpoints. A significant improvement in mood and the prevention of depression was evident for psychotherapy, but the treatment effects were small.