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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)



ECT has been proven to be an effective and safe (medication alternative) treatment:

  • For people experiencing acute mania or severe depression
  • Where previous responses to ECT have been effective
  • Where other treatment strategies have been ineffective
  • Where rapid treatment response is required

Frequently Asked Questions

ECT is an effective form of treatment for people with depression, mood disorders, and other psychiatric disorders. In addition, ECT may also be used to treat patients with psychotic or manic symptoms. ECT may be used when a patient has not responded to treatment, is unable to tolerate the side effects of medications, or must improve rapidly. Some depressed people simply do not respond to antidepressants or mood controlling drugs, and ECT is a way for such people to be effectively treated. ECT is utilized in the treatment of both mania and depression. There are some people who because of severe physical illness are unable to tolerate the side-effects of the medications used to treat mood disorders. Many of these people can be successfully treated with ECT. Pregnant women and people who have recently had heart attacks can be safely treated with ECT. Because of time pressure regarding occupational, social, or family events, some people do not have the time to wait for antidepressants or mood regulating medications to become effective. As ECT quite regularly brings about improvement within two or three weeks, people who are under such time pressure are also excellent candidates for ECT.

The physician must fully explain the benefits and dangers of ECT, and the patient give consent, before ECT can be administered. The patient should be encouraged to ask questions about the procedure and should be told that consent for treatments can be withdrawn at any time, and in the event that this happens, the treatments will be stopped. After giving consent, the patient undergoes a complete physical examination, including an electrocardiogram and blood tests. A series of ECTs usually consists of six to twelve treatments. Treatments can be administered to either in-patients or out-patients. An intravenous drip is started and through it medications to induce sleep and relax the muscles of the body. Once these medications are fully effective, an electrical stimulus is administered through electrodes to the head. The electrical stimulus produces brain wave (EEG) changes that are characteristic of a generalized seizure. It is believed that this seizure activity leads to the clinical improvement seen after a series of ECT. About 30-minutes after the treatment the patient awakens from sleep. While confused at first, the patient is soon oriented enough to eat breakfast, and return home if the treatments are being done in an outpatient setting or back to the psychiatric unit.

During ECT, the brain is stimulated by a small amount of electrical current. The electrical current produces a generalized seizure, which affects the brain centers that control mood. Researchers believe that ECT corrects the biological abnormalities that underlie severe depression. More than one treatment, however, is needed to achieve these positive effects. Following a course of treatment, patients feel more like themselves again and are able to work and lead productive lives. Often, family members, doctors, or nurses may notice improvement before the patient.

The most common side effects are headache, muscle soreness, nausea and difficulties with short-term memory. ECT may cause memory problems. These memory problems may take a number of months to clear. A small number of people who have received ECT complain of longer lasting memory problems. Such problems infrequently show up on psychological tests, it is not clear what causes them. Within a few weeks after ECT, your ability to learn and remember new information usually returns to normal.

In studies of people treated with ECT it has been found that 80% of such people report that they were helped by the treatments. About 75% say that ECT is no more frightening than going to the dentist.

While ECT is a highly successful way of helping people come out of depressions, it has to be followed by either continuation ECT or continuation pharmacotherapy therapy. If medications or ECT is not administered after a series of ECTs, there is a 50-80% relapse rate within 6-months.

There is little controversy about ECT among psychiatrists. Much of the opposition to ECT seems political in nature and originates in the anti-psychiatry groups or in negative media and film portrayals

For additional information, please call us at (813) 872-0457.