Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a well-established treatment for adults with mood disorders. However, its use in child and adolescent populations is less common. At the same time, approximately 60% of child and adolescent patients do not respond satisfactorily to first-line treatments for mood disorders.
Given the need for effective treatments for severe mood disorders in adolescents and the low use rate of ECT, this systematic review examines the existing literature on the effectiveness and adverse effect profile of ECT when used for treatment-resistant mood disorders in children and adolescents. Searches were conducted in Medline, Embase, and PsycInfo using search terms related to (1) children and adolescents, (2) mood disorders, and (3) ECT. Searches identified 1715 unique articles. The full text of 71 selected articles were reviewed, leading to 41 studies included in the study. A standardized data extraction tool was used to collect key information from each study (i.e. author and publication year, objectives, participants and setting, design, measures, clinical outcomes, and side effects).
As most of the studies found were case series, the Joanna Briggs Institute Case Series Critical Appraisal tool was used to assess quality. Studies were summarized qualitatively by comparing findings across key study parameters. Our review identified 41 studies for inclusion. Twenty were case series, two were case-control studies, and nineteen were case reports. Overall treatment response rates ranged from 51 to 92%, with patients receiving an average of 12 treatments. Among studies with n > 30, response rates were largely 70-82% for depression and 87-90% for mania. Seven studies used the Mini-Mental State Exam and found no evidence of significant post-treatment cognitive impairment. The majority of side effects were minor and transient. Tardive seizure was reported in 4 (0.6%) patients. ECT was discontinued early due to side effects in 11 (1.5%) cases. No fatalities were reported.
Our data suggest that ECT is safe and effective for the treatment of mood disorders in child and adolescent populations, and should be considered in severe and treatment-refractory cases. Controlled studies with objective measures and long-term follow-up are needed to advance the evidence base.
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