Interventions for treating anxiety after stroke

Campbell Burton, C. Alexia, Holmes, John, Murray, Jenni, Gillespie, David, Lightbody, Catherine Elizabeth orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5016-3471, Watkins, Caroline Leigh orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9403-3772 and Knapp, Peter (2011) Interventions for treating anxiety after stroke. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, - (12). pp. 1-25. ISSN 1469-493X

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Approximately 20% of stroke patients experience anxiety at some point after stroke.

To determine if any treatment for anxiety after stroke decreases the proportion of patients with anxiety disorders or symptoms, and to determine the effect of treatment on quality of life, disability, depression, social participation, risk of death or caregiver burden.

Search methods:
We searched the trials register of the Cochrane Stroke Group (October 2010), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 4), MEDLINE (1950 to October 2010), EMBASE (1947 to October 2010), PsycINFO (1806 to October 2010), Allied and Complementary Medicine database (AMED) (1985 to October 2010), Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health (CINAHL) (1982 to October 2010), Proquest Digital Dissertations (1861 to October 2010), and Psychological Database for Brain Impairment Treatment Efficacy (PsycBITE) (2004 to October 2010). In an effort to identify further published, unpublished and ongoing trials, we searched trial registries and major international stroke conference proceedings, scanned reference lists, and contacted select individuals known to the review team who are actively involved in psychological aspects of stroke research, and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

Selection criteria:
Two review authors independently screened and selected titles and abstracts for inclusion in the review. Randomised trials of any intervention in patients with stroke where the treatment of anxiety was an outcome were eligible.

Data collection and analysis:
Two review authors independently extracted data for analysis. We performed a narrative review. A meta-analysis was planned but not carried out as studies were not of sufficient quality to warrant doing so.

Main results:
We included two trials (three interventions) involving 175 participants with co-morbid anxiety and depression in the review. Both trials used the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A) to assess anxiety, and neither included a placebo control group. One trial randomised 81 patients to paroxetine, paroxetine plus psychotherapy or standard care. Mean level of anxiety severity scores were 58% and 71% lower in the paroxetine, and paroxetine plus psychotherapy groups respectively compared with those in standard care at follow-up (P < 0.01). The second trial randomised 94 stroke patients, also with co-morbid anxiety and depression, to receive buspirone hydrochloride or standard care. At follow-up, the mean level of anxiety was significantly lower for those receiving buspirone relative to controls (P < 0.01). Half of the participants receiving paroxetine experienced adverse events that included nausea, vomiting or dizziness; however, only 14% of those receiving buspirone experienced nausea or palpitations. No information was provided about the duration of symptoms associated with adverse events.

Authors' conclusions:
There is insufficient evidence to guide the treatment of anxiety after stroke. The data available suggest that pharmaceutical therapy (paroxetine and buspirone) may be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in stroke patients with co-morbid anxiety and depression. No information was available for stroke patients with anxiety only. Randomised placebo controlled trials are needed.

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