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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical treatment that involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia. It is typically administered by a team of trained medical professionals that includes a psychiatrist, an anesthesiologist, and a nurse or physician assistant.

Is ECT right for me?

ECT is one of the most effective treatments available for patients suffering from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Bipolar Disorder, and Extreme Anxiety. It often works when other treatments have run their course and been unsuccessful.

How does ECT work?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a safe procedure, done under general anesthesia. Your psychiatrist will use a machine that delivers a carefully calculated dose of electrical shock to the brain. This shock causes a brief, controlled seizure which seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions.

What can I expect from an ECT treatment?

You’ll have general anesthesia. So you can expect dietary restrictions before the procedure. When you’re asleep from the anesthetic and your muscles are relaxed, the doctor presses a button on the ECT machine. This causes a small amount of electric current to pass through the electrodes to your brain, producing a seizure that usually lasts less than 60 seconds.

A few minutes later, the effects of the short-acting anesthetic and muscle relaxant begin to wear off. You’re taken to a recovery area, where you’re monitored for any potential problems. When you wake up, you may experience a period of confusion lasting from a few minutes to a few hours or more. You can generally return to normal activities a few hours after the procedure.

The number and type of treatments you’ll need depend on the severity of your symptoms and how rapidly they improve.

How safe is ECT?

ECT is an extremely safe procedure with no pain involved. It is performed under the supervision of trained medical professionals including your psychiatrist, anesthesiologist and nurse. ECT is regularly performed in hospitals and can truly be life-saving for the patient.

You may have heard negative stories about ECT but these are typically based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones and other serious side effects. ECT is a very different type of procedure in today’s world and delivers safe results with the fewest possible risks.

Which disorders are treated with ECT?

  • Severe depression, particularly when accompanied by detachment from reality (psychosis), a desire to commit suicide or refusal to eat.
  • Treatment-resistant depression
  • Severe mania, a state of intense euphoria, agitation or hyperactivity that occurs as part of bipolar disorder.
  • Catatonia, characterized by lack of movement, fast or strange movements, lack of speech, and other symptoms.
  • Agitation and aggression in people with dementia