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Augmentation of Seizure Induction in Electroconvulsive Therapy: A Clinical Reappraisal

Datto, Catherine M.D.*; Rai, Anil K. M.D.†; Ilivicky, Howard J. M.D.‡; Caroff, Stanley N. M.D.*

Original Articles

Objective: Missed or abortive seizures during electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may preclude completion of an effective course of treatment in some cases. Seizure augmentation, using proconvulsant agents, has been used to overcome resistance to the induction and continuation of seizure activity. In this review, we analyze published clinical data on the effects and safety of seizure augmentation techniques.

Method: Clinical studies and case reports were obtained through a MEDLINE literature search from 1966 to 2001, cross-referencing ECT and proconvulsant agents. Article references were also scanned for relevant studies.

Results and Conclusions: Data from clinical trials indicate that augmentation facilitates seizure induction when maximal electrical stimuli fail. Anesthetic modifications, including hyperventilation and substitution with etomidate, ketamine, or other agents, often are successful in overcoming seizure resistance and compare favorably with the use of caffeine. In a few studies, augmentation enabled the use of lower stimulus intensities and fewer treatments without loss of efficacy, even in patients not resistant to seizure induction. However, effects of proconvulsants must be reconciled with increasing evidence of the importance of stimulus dosing relative to seizure threshold and other parameters, now considered key to the efficacy of ECT. Further investigations of pharmacologic augmentation could facilitate the administration of ECT and could provide further insights concerning parameters of seizure efficacy and the mechanism of action underlying convulsive therapies.

*Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; †New Hope of Pennsylvania, Inc., Wyoming, Pennsylvania; and ‡St. Charles Psychiatric Associates, St. Charles, Missouri, U.S.A.

Received March 1, 2002; accepted June 21, 2002.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Stanley N. Caroff, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (116A), University Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.