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Is ketamine an appropriate alternative to ECT for patients with treatment resistant depression? A systematic review

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Objective: Ketamine has repeatedly shown to have rapid and robust antidepressant effects in patients with treatment resistant depression (TRD). An important question is whether ketamine is as effective and safe as the current gold standard electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Methods: The literature was searched for trials comparing ketamine treatment with ECT for depression in the Pubmed/MEDLINE database and Cochrane Trials Library.

Results: A total of 137 manuscripts were identified, 6 articles were included in this review. Overall quality of the included studies was diverse with relevant risk of bias for some of the studies. Results suggest that ketamine treatment might give faster but perhaps less durable antidepressant effects. Side effects differed from ECT, in particular less cognitive impairment was apparent in ketamine treatment.

Limitations: The included studies have limited sample sizes, use different treatment protocols and in most trials, longer term follow up is lacking. Furthermore, allocation bias appears likely in the non-randomized trials.

Conclusions: Current available literature does not yet provide convincing evidence to consider ketamine as an equally effective treatment alternative to ECT in patients with TRD. There are indications for a more favourable short term cognitive side effect profile after ketamine treatment. Methodologically well-designed studies with larger sample sizes and longer follow up duration are warranted.

Veraart, J., Smith-Apeldoorn, S. Y., Spaans, H. P., Kamphuis, J., & Schoevers, R. A. (2021). Is ketamine an appropriate alternative to ECT for patients with treatment resistant depression? A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders, 281, 82–89.

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