Electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia

Tharyan P

Data collection and analysis: The reviewers extracted the data independently and analysed the data on an intention to treat basis.

Background and objectives: To determine whether electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) results in clinically meaningful benefit with regard to global improvement, hospitalisation, changes in mental state, behaviour and functioning in those with schizophrenia.

Reviewers' conclusions: There is some evidence to support the use of ECT for those with schizophrenia for short term relief of symptoms. Electroconvulsive therapy may be advocated as an adjunct to antipsychotic medication for those with schizophrenia who show a limited response to medication alone but the evidence for this is not strong. In fact in spite of more than five decades of widespread clinical use, the administration of ECT to those with schizophrenia lacks a strong research base.

Search strategy: Electronic searches of Biological Abstracts (1982-1996), EMBASE (1980-1996), Medline (1966-1996), PsycLIT (1974-1996) and SCISEARCH (1996) were undertaken. The references of all identified studies were investigated.

Selection criteria: All randomised controlled trials that compared ECT with placebo, 'sham ECT', non-pharmacological interventions and antipsychotics for people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or chronic mental disorder.

Main results: Less people with schizophrenia treated with ECT showed no improvement in general functioning when compared to those given placebo in the short term (OR 0.48 CI 99% 0.26-0.90). This effect, however, does not last. However, ECT is less effective than antipsychotic drug treatment for those with schizophrenia. Limited evidence exists to suggest that combining antipsychotic drugs and ECT increases the rate and extent of clinical improvement, in the short term, in one out of every five to six people. The evidence for the efficacy of ECT in the medium to long term is equivocal. Electroconvulsive therapy is also more effective than the now obsolete insulin coma treatment.