Pharmacological interventions to diminish cognitive side effects of electroconvulsive therapy: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Joey P.A.J. Verdijk, Mike A. van Kessel, Matthijs Oud, Charles H. Kellner, Jeannette Hofmeijer, Esmée Verwijk, Jeroen A. van Waarde

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objective: The authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of pharmacological interventions to diminish cognitive side effects of ECT. Methods: Electronic databases of Pubmed, PsycInfo, Embase and Scopus were searched from inception through 1 April, 2021, using terms for ECT (e.g. electroconvulsive therapy), cognitive outcome (e.g. cogni*) and pharmacological intervention (e.g. calcium channel blocker and general terms, like protein). Original studies with humans receiving ECT were included, which applied pharmacological interventions in comparison with placebo or no additive intervention to diminish cognitive side effects. Data quality was assessed using Risk of Bias and GRADE. Random-effects models were used. PROSPERO registration number was CRD42021212773. Results: Qualitative synthesis (systematic review) showed 52 studies reporting sixteen pharmacological intervention-types. Quantitative synthesis (meta-analysis) included 26 studies (1387 patients) describing twelve pharmacological intervention-types. Low-quality evidence of efficacy was established for memantine (large effect size) and liothyronine (medium effect size). Very low-quality evidence shows effect of acetylcholine inhibitors, piracetam and melatonin in some cognitive domains. Evidence of no efficacy was revealed for ketamine (very low-quality), herbal preparations with anti-inflammatory properties (very low to low-quality) and opioid receptor agonists (low-quality). Conclusion: Memantine and liothyronine are promising for further research and future application. Quality of evidence was low because of differences in ECT techniques, study populations and cognitive measurements. These findings provide a guide for rational choices of potential pharmacological intervention research targets to decrease the burden of cognitive side effects of ECT. Future research should be more uniform in design and attempt to clarify pathophysiological mechanisms of cognitive side effects of ECT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-356
Number of pages14
JournalActa Psychiatrica Scandinavica
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • cognitive outcome
  • electroconvulsive therapy
  • meta-analysis
  • pharmacological interventions
  • systematic review


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