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J Affect Disord. 1993 Dec;29(4):255-61.

ECT in the treatment of the catatonic syndrome.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City.



To determine the efficacy of ECT in the treatment of the catatonic syndrome and to identify predictors of good response.


28 cases of catatonia in 22 patients admitted to a psychiatry or medical psychiatry inpatient unit between January 1989 and June 1992 were retrospectively evaluated. Cases were included if they met criteria for catatonia as described by Kahlbaum, i.e., 4 or more signs including immobility, mutism, withdrawal, staring, rigidity, posturing/gimacing, negativism, waxy flexibility, echo phenomena, stereotypy, and verbigeration. Primary diagnoses were: Major Depressive Disorder (8), Bipolar Affective Disorder (5), schizophrenia (5), schizoaffective disorder (2) and organic mental disorder (2). Mean age was 54.5 years; sex ratio was 15 females to 7 males. Patients received a mean of 12.0 treatments with mean seizure duration 50.9 s (by EEG) per treatment.


By Kahlbaum criteria, resolution of the catatonic syndrome occurred in 26 out of 28 cases (93%). The mean number of signs present per patient prior to ECT was 5.6 versus 0.93 following ECT (p = 0.00001). Overall, ECT brought about resolution of 83.5% of all symptoms with 98% resolution of primary symptoms and 74% resolution of secondary symptoms.


ECT is an effective treatment of the catatonic syndrome. ECT is effective in the resolution of both cardinal (primary) and secondary signs of catatonia. In this study, there is not a statistically significant difference in the effectiveness of the resolution of catatonic symptoms in persons with affective disorder versus schizophrenia.

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