ECT-Related Anxiety: A Systematic Review

J. Obbels, E. Verwijk, F. Bouckaert, P. Sienaert

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Background: A significant proportion of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)-treated patients experience anxiety anticipating the treatment, often to such an extent that they refuse or discontinue a much-needed treatment. Despite its great impact on treatment adherence, anxiety in patients receiving ECT is underexposed in the scientific literature. Objectives: We aimed to review the prevalence and specific subjects of ECT-related anxiety and therapeutic interventions to reduce it. Methods: We performed a computerized search (EMBASE, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO) for articles meeting the following inclusion criteria: (1) qualitative (interview) studies, quantitative (questionnaire) studies, or experimental (interventional) studies that (2) report on anxiety that is related to a planned, ongoing, or past ECT treatment. Results: Of 1160 search results, 31 articles were included. Electroconvulsive therapy-related anxiety is estimated to be present in 14% to 75% of patients and is most often linked to worries about memory impairment or brain damage. Only a few interventions (chlorpromazine, meprobamate, propofol, a talking-through technique, an information leaflet, and animal-assisted therapy) have been proposed to reduce patients' ECT-related anxiety. Conclusions: Electroconvulsive therapy-related anxiety is a highly prevalent phenomenon, and the literature provides little guidance for its clinical management. Most studies are of a low methodological quality and suffer from significant limitations, thereby hampering generalized conclusions. Given the clinical importance of ECT-related anxiety, further study on its nature and evolution through the course of treatment and on anxiety-reducing interventions is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-236
Number of pages8
JournalThe Journal of ECT
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • ECT-related anxiety
  • electroconvulsive therapy
  • review

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