The first images have been released of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head by a gunman in January.

The politician, who has stood up for gay rights, was shown smiling in the images with no obvious sign of her injury, aside from her new short hairstyle.

Her office released the pictures on Facebook this weekend and a spokesman said she may be able to leave hospital in the last two months.

Ms Giffords, of Arizona, was shot through the forehead when Jared Loughner, 22, allegedly opened fire on a shopping mall.

Six people, including her aide, were killed, while 14 people were injured.

The politician has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation therapy and while the photos show her smiling, it is unclear how her injuries have affected her cognitive abilities.

Her spokeswoman, Pia Carusone, said doctors say Ms Giffords is making a “tremendously good recovery”.

But she added that Ms Giffords is still struggling to speak and often requires on gestures and expressions to communicate.

“Her words are back more and more now,” Ms Carusone told the Arizona Star, “but when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that’s where she’s had the trouble.”

She added: “All that we can hope for is that she won’t plateau today and that she’ll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here.”

Mr Loughner has pleaded not guilty to the shootings. He has been declared unfit to stand trial but prosecution lawyers hope this decision will be overturned to require him to face the charges.