The hospital said Giffords' cognitive abilities and physical strength had improved [Reuters]

Gabrielle Giffords, the US congresswoman who was shot in the head by a gunman in January, was discharged on Wednesday from the Houston hospital where she had been recovering from her severe wounds, the hospital said.

TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital said in a statement that Giffords, 41, would soon begin outpatient treatment at the same facility.

The Arizona Democrat's cognitive abilities and physical strength had improved, it said.

"Congresswoman Giffords has shown clear, continuous improvement from the moment she arrived at TIRR five months ago," Gerard Francisco, the hospital's chief medical officer, said.

"We are very excited that she has reached the next phase of her rehabilitation and can begin outpatient treatment.

"We have no doubt that she will continue to make significant strides in her recovery."

Six killed

Giffords was shot in the head at close range, after a man who opened fire at her and a crowd of bystanders at a political event on January 8 outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.

Twelve other people were wounded, and six were killed, including a federal judge, a young girl and one of Giffords' aides.

The 22-year-old man charged with the shooting, Jared Loughner, was recently declared mentally incompetent to stand trial and was sent back to a Missouri hospital for federal prisoners last month.

Giffords spent the first three weeks after the shooting hospitalised in Tucson, then was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston on January 21 to begin rehabilitation.

Giffords' spokesman CJ Karamargin told the Reuters news agency on Sunday that her abilities were improving weekly and that discussions were under way for Giffords to resume more active duties with her congressional office.

On Sunday, the first photos of Giffords since she was shot were released on her Facebook page.

The phoots were taken the day before Giffords had cranioplasty surgery and the day after the launch of the Endeavour space shuttle mission commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

The photographs showed a smiling Giffords with short hair, a scar on her throat from her tracheotomy and a slight indentation to her left temple, where a piece of her skull was removed.

Source: Agencies