The Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy Augmentation of Antipsychotic Treatment on Cognitive Functions in Patients With Treatment-Resistant Schizophrenia

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Abstract

Objectives

Treatment-resistant schizophrenia (TRS) continues to be a challenge in modern psychiatry. Most of these patients have severe neurocognitive deficits. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has proved effective and safe in the treatment of TRS, but because of potential neurocognitive adverse effects, it is associated with many controversies. The aim of this prospective, open study was to evaluate the effects of ECT augmentation of antipsychotics on cognitive functions in patients with TRS.

Methods

Overall, 31 inpatients with TRS were included, 16 men, with an average (SD) age of 34.1 (11.187) years. The evaluation of clinical symptoms and global impression, as well as verbal memory, visual memory, working memory, psychomotor speed, verbal fluency, and executive functioning, was conducted before and after the completion of ECT treatment.

Results

We ran a series of paired-samples t tests, and the Bonferroni adjustment for multiple comparisons reduced the significance level to P = 0.004. The neurocognitive domains that demonstrated statistically significant improvement were immediate and delayed verbal memory, and executive functioning, whereas statistical trend was observed for visual memory and psychomotor speed. None of the neurocognitive functions exhibited significant deterioration after the ECT treatment. Electroconvulsive therapy was effective in reducing general symptoms of schizophrenia, resulting in more than 30% decrease in the overall symptom severity measured by the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale.

Conclusions

Notwithstanding some limitations of this study, the combination of ECT and antipsychotics has improved several neurocognitive domains, without evidence of worsening of any cognitive functions.

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