Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

  • Medical Author:
    Peter J. Panzarino Jr., MD, FAPA

    Peter J. Panzarino, Jr., MD, is the former Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He is an Associate Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD
    Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD

    Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD

    Dr. Schoenfield served as associate professor of medicine and consultant in gastroenterology on the faculty of the Mayo Clinic for seven years. He became a professor of medicine in residence at UCLA from 1972 to 1999 (now emeritus). He was the director of gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for 25 years, where he received the chief resident's teaching award, the president's award, and the pioneer of medicine award.

Quick GuideLearn to Spot Depression: Symptoms, Warning Signs, Medication

Learn to Spot Depression: Symptoms, Warning Signs, Medication

What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

During the ECT procedure, an electric current is passed through the brain to produce controlled convulsions (seizures).

Why is electroconvulsive therapy performed?

ECT is useful for certain patients with significant depression, particularly for those who cannot take or are not responding to antidepressants, suffer from severe depression, or are at a high risk for suicide. ECT often is effective in cases where antidepressant medications do not provide sufficient relief of symptoms.

How does electroconvulsive therapy work?

This procedure probably works by a massive neurochemical release in the brain due to the controlled seizure. Highly effective, ECT relieves depression within 1 to 2 weeks after beginning treatments. After a course of ECT, some patients will continue to have maintenance ECT, while others will return to or continue antidepressant medications.

How is electroconvulsive therapy performed today and what are the side effects?

In recent years, the technique of ECT has been much improved. The treatment is given in the hospital under anesthesia so that people receiving ECT do not feel pain or discomfort. Most patients undergo 6 to 10 treatments. An electrical current is passed through the brain to cause a controlled seizure, which typically lasts for 20 to 90 seconds. The patient is awake in 5 to 10 minutes. The most common side effect is a temporary loss of short-term memory, which resolves quickly. After theinitial course of treatment, ECT can be safely done as an outpatient procedure.

For more in-depth information, please read MedicineNet.com's article on Depression.

Medically reviewed by Marina Katz, MD; American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology


"Brain Stimualtion Therapy"
National Institute of Mental Health

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/19/2015

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