Comparing the Anti-Depressive Effect of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Versus Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) in the Treatment of Patients with Depression

Psychiatr Danub. 2023 Oct;35(Suppl 2):48-55.


Background: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is one of the most effective treatments for depressive disorders. However, ECT has a number of limitations, such as significant side effects in the neurocognitive domain and the requirement for general anesthesia. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an intervention that applies electric stimulation to the brain without causing convulsions, thus representing an attractive alternative to ECT. The aim of our study is to review systematic reports of the effectiveness of ECT and TMS in the treatment of depressive spectrum disorders.

Subjects and methods: We performed search queries in PubMed and eLibrary databases, which retrieved 391 articles, of which 14 met our inclusion criteria for the analysis. The articles comprised three comparisons: TMS vs SHAM, ECT vs sham ECT (SECT), and ECT vs PHARM. The protocol parameters analyzed for TMS were coil type, targeted brain area, amplitude of resting motor threshold, duration of session, number of sessions in total and per week, number and pulses per session and inter-train pause. For ECT, we evaluated the type of ECT device, targeted brain area, type of stimuli, and for ECT vs PHARM we recorded types of anesthesia and antidepressant medication.

Results: Three of 6 studies showed a therapeutic effect of TMS compared to placebo; efficacy was greater for TMS frequency exceeding 10 Hz, and with stimulation of two areas of cerebral cortex rather than a single area. There was insufficient data to identify a relationship between the success of TMS and intertrain pause (IP). Three of four studies showed a therapeutic effect of ECT compared to placebo. Three studies of bilateral ECT showed a significant reduction in depression scores compared to the SECT groups. ECT protocols with brief pulses were generally of lesser efficacy. Four of 5 ECT vs PHARM studies showed superior efficacy of ECT compared to PHARM. Among several antidepressants, only the ketamine study showed greater efficacy compared to ECT.

Conclusions: There of six TMS studies and 7 of 9 ECT studies showed efficacy in reducing depressive symptoms. A prospective study of crossover design might reveal the relative efficacies of ECT and TMS.

Keywords: antidepressive effect - depressive disorder – electroconvulsive therapy - systematic review - transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Depression / therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / psychology
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy* / methods
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents