Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

In electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a controlled electric current is passed through the brain, producing a very brief seizure. This can decrease symptoms that affect your thoughts, emotions, and actions.

When is it used?

ECT is used to treat severe forms of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder when other forms of treatment such as psychotherapy or medicines:

  • Have not worked
  • Would take too long, such as when someone is suicidal
  • Have had too many side effects

ECT is also sometimes used when people hear voices or have delusions.

You may have 2 or 3 ECT sessions a week over 3 to 6 weeks. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you continue to have 1 ECT treatment every month.

Most depressed people who have ECT get better after a full course of treatment.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • Plan for your care and a ride home after the procedure.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure, depending on what they are and when you need to take them. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. Ask about other treatment options for your condition. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

ECT is usually done in a hospital under the supervision of a psychiatrist.

You will be given a general anesthetic before the procedure to keep you from feeling pain. General anesthesia relaxes your muscles and you will be asleep. After you are asleep, electrode pads are put on your head. A controlled electric pulse is delivered to the electrodes, which causes a brief seizure in your brain. Because you are asleep and your muscles are relaxed, you will not be injured.

The most common side effects are headache, confusion, and muscle aches for a few hours after the procedure. You may not remember what took place right before your treatment.

What happens after the procedure?

You will be watched carefully until you wake up from the procedure. Your blood pressure and heart rhythm will be checked. You will usually be able to go home in a few hours. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for your next treatment.

What are the risks of ECT?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks include:

  • You may have short-term memory loss that may take weeks to go away.
  • You may have an irregular heartbeat.
  • You may have problems with anesthesia.

Ask your healthcare provider how the risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-03-12
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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