Effectiveness of Continuation Right Unilateral ECT Plus Pharmacotherapy Compared to Pharmacotherapy Alone

October 11, 2013 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 
ECT

Different types of ECT

A new study is one of the first to find that after successful electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatment for depression, continuation of ECT together with pharmacotherapy was superior to continuation with pharmacotherapy alone. ECT produces a seizure while a patient is under anesthesia. The treatment has been successful in acutely treating many patients with severe depression who have not responded to other treatments. The question remains how to maintain the positive acute effects of ECT for a longer duration.

The new research was published in the Journal of ECT in 2013 by Axel Nordenskjöld et al. Patients with unipolar or bipolar depression who improved after an acute series of ECT (usually given 3 times per week) were randomized to receive either continuing ECT plus pharmacotherapy or pharmacotherapy alone. The ECT continuation group received weekly ECT for 6 weeks and every 2 weeks thereafter for a total of 29 ECT treatments in one year. The pharmacotherapy consisted of antidepressants (98%), lithium (56%), and antipsychotics (30%). Venlafaxine (Effexor) was considered the first choice for medication, and lithium augmentation was offered to all patients (not just those with bipolar depression). Of the participants, 64% had recurrent unipolar depression, while less than 20% had bipolar depression.

Among all the patients who were randomized at the beginning of the study (the intent-to-treat cohort), the one-year relapse rate was 61% for patients treated with pharmacotherapy alone and 32% for patients treated with the ECT plus pharmacotherapy (p=0.036). Relapse rates at 6 months were 54% for the pharmacotherapy alone group and 29% for the group receiving ECT plus pharmacotherapy. Some patients required inpatient care during the trial—36% of the patients in the pharmacotherapy alone group and 20% of those in the pharmacotherapy plus ECT group. There was no evidence of a differential effect on cognition across the two groups. (There is concern that bilateral ECT can adversely affect cognition, especially autobiographical memory, but this is not a concern with right unilateral ECT.)

Various parameters for ECT have been studied. This research used unilateral ultrabrief pulse ECT. These parameters are standard in Sweden, where the study took place, and these results are of particular interest as they differ from a US study that used bilateral ECT with treatments given more intermittently. In that study, in which response to ECT with pharmacotherapy did not differ from response to pharmacotherapy alone, ECT continuation was given in the form of 4 weekly treatments, 4 biweekly treatments and then 2 monthly treatments, and this regimen resulted in a relapse rate of 37% within 6 months (Kellner et al. 2006).

Only one other study in geriatric patients who were psychotically depressed showed superiority of continuation ECT.

Editor’s Note: The take-home message from this study may be that for patients with recurrent unipolar depression who respond positively to a course of right unilateral ultrabrief pulse ECT, continuation of regular ECT plus pharmacotherapy is worth considering over pharmacotherapy alone. While direct comparative studies have not been performed, it would appear reasonable to use weekly ECT for 6 weeks and then every 2 weeks thereafter for the continuation ECT treatment rather than a more intermittent series of treatments as in the studies of Kellner et al. Previous studies have shown that the addition of lithium to antidepressants is superior to antidepressants alone in the continuation phase of ECT (Sackeim et al. 2001), so having lithium in the regimen would also appear useful.

Most Online Pharmacies Fake, Says FDA

September 13, 2013 · Posted in Resources · Comment 

Online Pharmacies

In late 2012, the Federal Drug Administration announced that 97% of online pharmacies violated state or federal laws and/or safety and practice standards set by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Medications sold by fake pharmacies may be fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by the FDA,  or unsafe.

Here are some warning signs that may mean an online pharmacy is fake:

  • Allows you to buy medications without a prescription.
  • Offers prices that are too good to be true.
  • Sends spam emails offering discount prices.
  • Is located outside the US.
  • Is not licensed in the US

Real pharmacies are licensed by the state where they are located. They should provide a physical address and phone number, where you can reach a pharmacist who can answer your questions.

Track Your Moods with Life Charting

January 14, 2011 · Posted in Resources · Comment 

If you have unipolar depression or bipolar disorder and are having trouble stabilizing your mood, we recommend nightly charting of mood, medications and side effects on the easy-to-use Monthly Mood Chart Personal Calendar (pictured below) or the National Institute of Mental Health Life Chart (NIMH-LCM), both of which are available for download.

Sample Mood Chart

Sample Mood Chart

Click on the Life Charts tab above to download the personal calendar, which includes space for rating mood, functioning, hours of sleep, life events, side effects, and other symptoms such as anxiety.  Then bring the chart to each visit with your physician to help in the assessment of treatments.

Life charting can help determine which medications are working partially and need to be augmented further, and which need to be eliminated because of side effects.  Since there are now many potential treatments for depression and bipolar disorder (some FDA-approved and some not), a careful assessment of how well each new treatment works for a particular patient is essential to finding the optimal treatment regimen.