Clinical and cost-effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy for depressive illness, schizophrenia, catatonia and mania; systematic reviews and economic modelling studies

Authors: Greenhalgh J, Knight C, Hind D, Beverley C, Walters S

Journal: Health Technology Assessment Volume: 9 Issue: 9

Publication date: March 2005



Greenhalgh J, Knight C, Hind D, Beverley C, Walters S.Clinical and cost-effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy for depressive illness, schizophrenia, catatonia and mania; systematic reviews and economic modelling studies. Health Technol Assess 2005;9(9)

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To establish the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depressive illness, schizophrenia, catatonia and mania.

Data sources

Electronic bibliographic databases. The reference lists of relevant articles and health services research-related resources were consulted via the Internet.

Review methods

Identified studies were examined to ascertain whether they met the inclusion criteria for the review. The study quality of relevant articles was assessed using standard checklists and data were abstracted using standardised forms into a database. Where relevant, results from studies were pooled for meta-analysis. Two economic models were developed primarily based on evidence from the clinical effectiveness analysis and limited quality of life studies.


Two good-quality systematic reviews of randomised evidence of the efficacy and safety of ECT in people with depression, schizophrenia, catatonia and mania were identified. Four systematic reviews on non-randomised evidence were also identified, although only one of these could be described as good quality. There was no randomised evidence of the effectiveness of ECT in specific subgroups including older people, children and adolescents, people with catatonia and women with postpartum exacerbations of depression or schizophrenia. The economic modelling results for depression did not demonstrate that any of the scenarios had a clear economic benefit over the others, mainly because of the uncertainty surrounding the clinical effectiveness of the different treatments and the quality of life utility gains. Sensitivity analysis surrounding the cost of ECT and the quality of life utility values had little effect on the overall results. The results of the model for schizophrenia adapted to include ECT suggest that clozapine is a cost-effective treatment compared with ECT. For patients who fail to respond to clozapine, ECT treatment may be preferred to the comparative treatment of haloperidol/chlorpromazine.


Real ECT is probably more effective than sham ECT, but as stimulus parameters have an important influence on efficacy, low-dose unilateral ECT is no more effective than sham ECT. ECT is probably more effective than pharmacotherapy in the short term and limited evidence suggests that ECT is more effective than repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) may improve the antidepressant effect of ECT during the course of treatment. Continuation pharmacotherapy with TCAs combined with lithium in people who have responded to ECT reduces the rate of relapses. Overall, gains in the efficacy of the intervention depending on the stimulus parameters of ECT are achieved only at the expense of an increased risk of cognitive side-effects. Limited evidence suggests these effects do not last beyond 6 months, but there is no evidence examining the longer term cognitive effects of ECT. There is little evidence of the long-term efficacy of ECT. ECT either combined with antipsychotic medication or as a monotherapy is not more effective than antipsychotic medication in people with schizophrenia. More research is needed to examine the long-term efficacy of ECT and the effectiveness of post-ECT pharmacotherapy, the short-term and longer term cognitive side-effects of ECT, and the impact of ECT on suicide and all-cause mortality. Further work is needed to examine the information needs of people deciding whether to accept ECT and how their decision-making can be facilitated. More research is also needed on the mechanism of action of ECT. Finally, the quality of reporting of trials in this area would be vastly improved by strict adherence to the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials recommendations. Economic analysis may identify areas in which research would be best targeted by identifying parameters where reducing the level of uncertainty would have the most effect in helping to make the decision on whether ECT is a cost-effective treatment.

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