ECT Tied to Reduction in All-Cause Mortality in Major Depression

Fran Lowry

June 10, 2022

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may lower mortality for patients with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD), new research suggests.

In an analysis of data from a large database of inpatients across the United States, use of ECT for those with resistant MDD was associated with significantly lower in-hospital mortality compared with those who did not receive ECT.

This held true even after controlling for demographics and loss of function due to comorbid medical conditions.

"I think the risks of ECT are far less than the benefits in this population," co-investigator Nagy A. Youssef, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director of clinical research, the Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, told Medscape Medical News.

"My hope is that providers will not be afraid to refer appropriate cases for ECT. If meds and other therapeutics are not working, you should start discussing ECT as a second or third line," he said.

The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP) 2022 Annual Meeting.

Lower Mortality

Youssef, a brain stimulation researcher who uses ECT in his clinical practice, said that in his experience, it is a highly effective therapy for resistant depression.

"I see great responses in patients who have tried everything else. Most of the time, it works very well, and results are very rewarding."

For the study, the investigators used a large, national insurance claims database that included 949,394 adult inpatients with MDD across the US from 2012 to 2014. The cohort represented over 4000 hospitals across the country.

The investigators used logistic regression to determine the odds ratio for in-hospital all-cause mortality for the 25,535 MDD patients who were treated with ECT in comparison with 923,859 patients with MDD who were not treated with ECT.

Results showed that ECT use was significantly higher among older patients (mean age, 56.9 years), women (64%), and White patients (86.9%). In addition, patients in the ECT group were physically sicker than their peers in the non-ECT group.

A higher proportion of patients in the ECT group in comparison with the non-ECT group had experienced major loss of physical function (37% vs 5%, respectively) and extreme loss of physical function (63% vs 0.2%).

"By loss of function, I mean the degree of impairment caused by medical disease," said Youssef.

He added that patients with MDD are more likely to care less for their health and do things that are not good for their well-being, such as drinking alcohol or using drugs, and are less likely to adhere to prescribed medication regimens or seek medical attention for physical illness.

“Also, there is probably a biological component where depression, by dysregulation of the hypothalamus and pituitary regions of the brain, which can increase the likelihood of physical illness or disease,” Youssef said.

After adjusting for demographics and extreme loss of function because of medical conditions, the investigators found that in-hospital mortality was significantly lower in the ECT group (odds ratio [OR], 0.05; 95% CI, 0.02 – 0.11; P < .001).

In-hospital mortality was numerically but not statistically significantly lower in the ECT group (OR, 0.7; 95% CI 0.41 – 1.50; P < .47) when adjusted for demographics and major loss of function.

"While this was not statistically significant with marked loss of function, it is clinically important and meaningful. With extreme loss of function, the decrease in mortality was statistically significant," Youssef noted.

Designations of extreme and major loss of function were derived from ICD codes.

"This is a complex grading system that takes into account how sick the patient is and includes medical disease severity and comorbidities assessed by the clinician," he said.

A Lifesaving Treatment

Commenting for Medscape Medical News, Jair C. Soares, MD, PhD, professor and chair, Pat Rutherford Chair in Psychiatry, UT Houston Medical School, Texas, said, "These are interesting results in a very large national sample suggesting some potential benefits of ECT.

"For the most severely ill patients with major depression who do not respond to currently available medications, ECT is still the most efficacious treatment and indeed a lifesaving treatment modality for many patients," said Soares, who was not part of the study.

He noted that ECT is not right for everyone, but "as administered these days, with careful patient selection, it is indeed a safe treatment that can save many lives," Soares said.

Youssef reports a financial relationship with MECTA. Soares reports no relevant financial relationships.

American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP) 2022 Annual Meeting: Abstract 3003675. Presented June 2, 2022.

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