Electroconvulsive therapy

What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

In ECT, a seizure is electrically induced after the patient has been given a short-acting anaesthetic and is asleep. Although viewed as controversial, ECT is a well established psychiatric treatment with good evidence to support its effective and safe use. ECT is most often used as a treatment for severe depression that has not responded adequately to other treatments as it has been shown to be more effective than antidepressant medication. It is also used as a first line treatment in depression where an urgent response is required as it works more quickly than medications. While most people with schizophrenia respond adequately to antipsychotic medication, some find it is not completely effective for all of their symptoms. ECT is currently used and is being further evaluated as an additional or alternative treatment for these people and is likely to be most effective for those who have depressive symptoms or have abrupt or recent onset of psychotic symptoms.

What is the evidence for ECT for people with schizophrenia?

There is high quality evidence indicating a small, short-term benefit of ECT over sham ECT (placebo) for symptom improvement. There is also moderate quality evidence that antipsychotics are more effective than ECT for symptoms. Moderate quality evidence suggests small to medium-sized benefits of ECT over psychoanalytic psychotherapy for mental state and behaviour and social functioning for 6 months after treatment, and for global improvement for two years after treatment.

March 2019

Last updated at: 10:07 pm, 14th May 2019
To view documentation related to this topic download the files below
Fact Sheet Technical Commentary

NeuRA Libraries

Title Colour Legend:
Green - Topic summary is available.
Orange - Topic summary is being compiled.
Red - Topic summary has no current systematic review available.