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Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2001 Sep;4(3):315-24.

Electroconvulsive therapy in the era of modern psychopharmacology.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Blvd, Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA.


Fifty years of advances in the pharmacotherapy of major depression (MDE), mania, schizophrenia, and other severe and persistent psychiatric disorders have neither made ECT obsolete nor unnecessary. However, advances in pharmacotherapy have radically changed the practice of ECT. ECT is rarely a first-line treatment of mental disorder, unless the clinical situation is desperate. Otherwise, ECT is most often offered to persons who have failed to respond to pharmacotherapy, thus defining a relatively treatment-refractory population for ECT. The physician who refers patients for ECT, as well as the ECT provider, must be able to judge at what point a patient is deemed "medication resistant", implying expertise in pharmacotherapy for both the referring physician and the ECT provider. Authoritative sources from 20 years ago quoted antidepressant response rates > or = 90% for ECT, but the antidepressant response rate in medication-resistant MDE may be only 60%. Improvements in the safety of ECT have resulted in the referral of large numbers of older persons for ECT. High relapse rates after ECT are perhaps the biggest problem presently facing patients and providers. High relapse rates are not surprising given that (i) most patients are medication resistant, and (ii) ECT is usually withdrawn at the moment it becomes effective. Although continuation/maintenance ECT is an option in preventing relapse, it may not be a practical solution for persons still in their productive years, and it is resource-intensive. Still, continuation/maintenance ECT is the only method to prevent relapse and recurrence of severe psychiatric disorder for some persons.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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