Objective: Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) is a potentially lethal adverse effect of neuroleptic medication, with no satisfactory treatment currently available. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been anecdotally reported to be effective in its treatment. We review 45 published case reports of ECT for NMS and describe nine new cases, to examine its effectiveness, the likelihood of adverse reactions, and the theoretical implications of such treatment. Method: The authors used Medline to identify reports in the English literature where ECT was used in cases of suspected NMS. In addition, the charts of patients referred to the second author for treatment of NMS were reviewed and cases in which ECT used were identified. Results: The case reports suggest that ECT is effective in many individuals with NMS, even when drug therapy has failed. The response is usually apparent after a few treatments, generally up to six. The response is not predictable on the basis of age, gender, psychiatric diagnosis or any particular feature of NMS including catatonia. Electroconvulsive therapy is a relatively safe treatment in NMS, although the risk of cardiovascular complications should be considered. Malignant hyperthermia due to the anaesthesia associated with ECT has not been reported in patients with NMS, and succinylcholine has been used safely with the exception of one report of fever and raised creatine kinase levels and another report of hyperkalemia. Conclusions: Electroconvulsive therapy is the preferred treatment in severe NMS, cases where the underlying psychiatric diagnosis is psychotic depression or catatonia, and in cases where lethal catatonia cannot be ruled out. The effectiveness of ECT for the treatment of NMS has theoretical implications for the relationship between NMS and catatonia, and the possible pathophysiological mechanisms that underlie these disorders.
- Lethal catatonia
- Malignant hyperthermia