BACKGROUND We compared the antidepressant and cognitive effects of up to eight sessions of bilateral, brief pulse electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) administered twice (ECT x 2) or three times weekly (ECT x 3), to confirm that ECT x 3 acts more rapidly although the two schedules are equivalent in antidepressant outcome, and to establish whether ECT x 3 is indeed associated with more severe memory impairment.
METHOD Patients with major depression, endogenous subtype were randomly assigned to ECT x 3 or ECT x 2 plus one simulated ECT per week, both up to a maximum of eight real ECT. Depression was evaluated by the Hamilton Depression Scale the day after each treatment and cognitive function by a test battery administered before and after the ECT series and at one month follow-up.
RESULTS Assessed categorically or parametrically, there was no significant difference in antidepressant outcome between the two schedules. Rate of response was significantly more rapid with ECT x 3 but was associated with more severe memory impairment.
CONCLUSIONS Twice weekly administration is an optimum schedule for bilateral ECT unless clinical indications require the more rapid antidepressant effect of three times weekly treatment.