Background: Remission of illness in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) is achieved in less than half of patients initially treated with medication. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another treatment option. We report the speed of response and remission rates in a cohort of depressed patients who received a course of acute-phase ECT in the initial phase of an ongoing multicenter randomized trial of continuation ECT versus pharmacotherapy.
Method: Patients with MDD according to DSM-IV criteria received bilateral ECT 3 times weekly. Prior to each treatment, a 24-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D-24) score was obtained by a clinical rater. Sustained response was defined as a > or = 50% reduction in baseline HAM-D-24 score for at least 2 and all subsequent measurement occasions. Remission was defined as HAM-D-24 scores of < or = 10 for at least the last 2 consecutive assessments. Data were collected from May 1997 through November 2000.
Results: Of the 253 patients who entered the study, 86% (N = 217) completed the acute course of ECT. Sustained response occurred in 79% of the sample, and remission occurred in 75% of the sample (N = 253); 34% (85/253) of patients achieved remission at or before ECT #6 (week 2), and 65% (164/253) achieved remission at or before ECT #10 (weeks 3-4). Over half (54%; 136/253) had an initial first response by ECT #3 (end of week 1).
Conclusion: ECT was associated with rapid response and remission in a high percentage of patients. ECT warrants early consideration in treatment algorithms for patients with MDD.