Up to 70% of patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia do not respond to clozapine. Pharmacological augmentation to clozapine has been studied with unimpressive results. The authors examined the use of ECT as an augmentation to clozapine for treatment-refractory schizophrenia.
In a randomized single-blind 8-week study, patients with clozapine-resistant schizophrenia were assigned to treatment as usual (clozapine group) or a course of bilateral ECT plus clozapine (ECT plus clozapine group). Nonresponders from the clozapine group received an 8-week open trial of ECT (crossover phase). ECT was performed three times per week for the first 4 weeks and twice weekly for the last 4 weeks. Clozapine dosages remained constant. Response was defined as ≥40% reduction in symptoms based on the psychotic symptom subscale of the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale, a Clinical Global Impressions (CGI)-severity rating <3, and a CGI-improvement rating ≤2.
The intent-to-treat sample included 39 participants (ECT plus clozapine group, N=20; clozapine group, N=19). All 19 patients from the clozapine group received ECT in the crossover phase. Fifty percent of the ECT plus clozapine patients met response criterion. None of the patients in the clozapine group met response criterion. In the crossover phase, response was 47%. There were no discernible differences between groups on global cognition. Two patients required the postponement of an ECT session because of mild confusion.
The augmentation of clozapine with ECT is a safe and effective treatment option. Further research is required to determine the persistence of the improvement and the potential need for maintenance treatments.