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Clinically insubstantial cognitive side effects of bitemporal electroconvulsive therapy at 0.5 msec pulse width

Ronald L. Warnell, MD

Department of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, USA

Conrad M. Swartz, PhD, MD

Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR, USA, Department of Psychiatry, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, IL, USA

Alice Thomson, MA, PhD

Department of Psychology, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda CA, USA

BACKGROUND: We measured cognitive side effects from bitemporal electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) using stimuli of 0.5 msec pulse width 900 milliamperes (mA).

METHODS: Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) and 21-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD-21) were rated within 36 hours before and 36 hours after a series of 6 bitemporal ECT sessions on 15 patients age ≥45.

RESULTS: MMSE remained high after ECT (pre-ECT mean 29, standard deviation [SD] 1.60, post-ECT mean 28.53, SD 1.36) with no significant change. The mean HRSD-21 fell from 27.5 to 16.3. Post-ECT MMSE was significantly and markedly higher than in previous studies of bitemporal ECT; all had used ECT stimuli of pulse width at least 1 msec.

CONCLUSIONS: With stimuli of 0.5 msec pulse width and 900 mA, 6 bitemporal ECTs did not decrease MMSE score. This result leaves no opportunity for further decrease in basic cognitive side effects, and complements published reports of stronger physiological effects with stimuli of 0.5 msec pulse width and 900 mA. ECT stimuli of 0.5 msec pulse width and 900 mA are more desirable than wider pulse widths. Six bitemporal ECT sessions using these stimuli generally will not have more cognitive side effects than treatments with other placements, allowing maintenance of full efficacy with clinically insubstantial side effects.

KEYWORDS: electroconvulsive therapy, cognitive aspects, bitemporal


CORRESPONDENCE: Ronald L. Warnell, MD, Department of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University, 1686 Barton Road, Redlands, CA 92373 USA, E-MAIL:
Annals of Clinical Psychiatry ©2011 Quadrant HealthCom Inc.

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