ECT-Related Anxiety: A Systematic Review

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A significant proportion of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)–treated patients experience anxiety anticipating the treatment, often to such an extent that they refuse or discontinue a much-needed treatment. Despite its great impact on treatment adherence, anxiety in patients receiving ECT is underexposed in the scientific literature.


We aimed to review the prevalence and specific subjects of ECT-related anxiety and therapeutic interventions to reduce it.


We performed a computerized search (EMBASE, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO) for articles meeting the following inclusion criteria: (1) qualitative (interview) studies, quantitative (questionnaire) studies, or experimental (interventional) studies that (2) report on anxiety that is related to a planned, ongoing, or past ECT treatment.


Of 1160 search results, 31 articles were included. Electroconvulsive therapy–related anxiety is estimated to be present in 14% to 75% of patients and is most often linked to worries about memory impairment or brain damage. Only a few interventions (chlorpromazine, meprobamate, propofol, a talking-through technique, an information leaflet, and animal-assisted therapy) have been proposed to reduce patients’ ECT-related anxiety.


Electroconvulsive therapy–related anxiety is a highly prevalent phenomenon, and the literature provides little guidance for its clinical management. Most studies are of a low methodological quality and suffer from significant limitations, thereby hampering generalized conclusions. Given the clinical importance of ECT-related anxiety, further study on its nature and evolution through the course of treatment and on anxiety-reducing interventions is warranted.

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