Efficacy and acceptability of high frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) versus electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for major depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials

Depress Anxiety. 2013 Jul;30(7):614-23. doi: 10.1002/da.22060. Epub 2013 Jan 24.


Clinical trials comparing the efficacy and acceptability of high frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (HF-rTMS) and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for treating major depression (MD) have yielded conflicting results. As this may have been the result of limited statistical power, we have carried out this meta-analysis to examine this issue. We searched the literature for randomized trials on head-to-head comparisons between HF-rTMS and ECT from January 1995 through September 2012 using MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and SCOPUS. The main outcome measures were remission rates, pre-post changes in depression ratings, as well as overall dropout rates at study end. We used a random-effects model, Odds Ratios (OR), Number Needed to Treat (NNT), and Hedges' g effect sizes. Data were obtained from 7 randomized trials, totalling 294 subjects with MD. After an average of 15.2 HF-rTMS and 8.2 ECT sessions, 33.6% (38/113) and 52% (53/102) of subjects were classified as remitters (OR = 0.46; p = 0.04), respectively. The associated NNT for remission was 6 and favoured ECT. Also, reduction of depressive symptomatology was significantly more pronounced in the ECT group (Hedges' g = -0.93; p = 0.007). No differences on dropout rates for HF-rTMS and ECT groups were found. In conclusion, ECT seems to be more effective than HF-rTMS for treating MD, although they did not differ in terms of dropout rates. Nevertheless, future comparative trials with larger sample sizes and better matching at baseline, longer follow-ups and more intense stimulation protocols are warranted.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy* / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data
  • Remission Induction
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation* / statistics & numerical data
  • Treatment Outcome