The antidepressant and cognitive side effects of right unilateral (RUL) electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are reported to depend on the magnitude of the electrical stimulus relative to the seizure threshold. The stimulus doses explored in previous clinical trials of RUL ECT have generally been limited to 1 to 2.5 times the convulsive threshold and the antidepressant efficacy has been low compared with bilateral (BL) ECT. The present study compares the antidepressant and cognitive side effects of 2 RUL dosing strategies: titrated moderately suprathreshold and fixed high dose.
Seventy-two adult patients with major depression were randomized to either titrated RUL ECT at 2.25 times initial seizure threshold (mean dose, 136 millicoulombes [mC]), or RUL ECT at a fixed dose of 403 mC. Primary outcome measures were antidepressant response and cognitive status 1 or 2 days after the course of ECT.
The 2 treatment groups were comparable in demographic and clinical characteristics prior to ECT. Both groups received a mean of 5.7 sessions of RUL ECT. Patients receiving fixed-dose ECT were more likely to have an antidepressant response at the end of the protocol (n=49 [67%]) compared with those receiving titrated dosing (n=28 [39%]). Furthermore, the likelihood of both antidepressant response and cognitive deficits increased as stimulus dose increased relative to initial seizure threshold, up through 8 to 12 times the threshold.
The antidepressant efficacy and cognitive side effects of RUL ECT are dependent on the magnitude of the stimulus dose relative to the seizure threshold, and a dose-response relationship extends through at least 12 times the seizure threshold.