Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is typically used to treat severe depression, but it used for other mental illnesses, like schizophrenia. During ECT, an electric current is briefly applied through the scalp to the brain, inducing a seizure.
Why Is ECT Used?
ECT is one of the fastest ways to relieve symptoms in severely depressed or suicidal patients, or patients who suffer from mania or other mental illnesses. ECT is generally used as a last resort when severe depression is unresponsive to other forms of therapy, or when these patients pose a severe threat to themselves or others, and it is dangerous to wait until medications take effect.
How Is ECT Performed?
Prior to ECT treatment, a patient is put to sleep using general anesthesia and given a muscle relaxant. Electrodes are placed on the patient's scalp and a finely controlled electric current is applied, which causes a brief seizure in the brain.
Because the muscles are relaxed, the seizure will usually be limited to slight movement of the hands and feet. Patients are carefully monitored during the treatment and awaken minutes later, not remembering the treatment or events surrounding it. The patient is often confused, but this confusion typically lasts for only a short period of time. ECT is usually given up to three times a week for two to four weeks.
A course of ECT is usually followed by psychotherapy and medicine under a psychiatrist's care.
Controversy Surrounding ECT
ECT remains misunderstood by the general public, although it has been used since the 1940s. Many of the risks and side effects have been related to the misuse of equipment, incorrect administration, and improperly trained staff. There is also a misconception that ECT is used as a "quick fix" instead of long-term therapy or hospitalization. Unfavorable portrayals in movies or television shows and misrepresentation in media coverage have added to the controversy surrounding this treatment. In fact, ECT is safe and among the most effective treatments available for depression.
Making an Informed Decision About ECT
Before ECT is considered, you should discuss all available treatment options for your condition with your doctor. If ECT is recommended, you should receive a complete medical examination including a history, physical, and neurological exams, an ECG (heart test), and lab tests. Your medication history should be carefully evaluated and monitored.
If you are considering ECT as a treatment option, be advised that it may provide temporary improvement but has a high relapse rate. Many doctors advocate follow-up treatment that includes medicine or ECT given at less regular intervals, called "maintenance ECT."
Short-term memory loss is the major side effect, although this usually goes away within 1-2 weeks after treatment.
You should be educated and informed about ECT and any treatment prior to receiving it. Ask for educational materials and have an honest discussion with your doctor about the ECT's potential benefits and side effects.
WebMD Medical Reference
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Top Electroconvulsive Therapy Related Articles
Bipolar disorder (or manic depression) is a mental illness characterized by depression, mania, and severe mood swings. Treatment may incorporate mood-stabilizer medications, antidepressants, and psychotherapy.
Bipolar SlideshowBipolar disorder (once called manic depression) causes extreme mood shifts and can be disorienting. Our experts define bipolar disorder, discuss bipolar symptoms, and describe bipolar medications that can help.
Bipolar Disorder vs. SchizophreniaBipolar disorder and schizophrenia are mental illnesses that share some risk factors and treatments. Symptoms of bipolar disorder include mood changes and manic and depressive episodes. Symptoms of schizophrenia include unusual behavior, delusions, and hallucinations.
Brain Layers PictureThat part of the central nervous system that is located within the cranium (skull). See a picture of Brain Layers and learn more about the health topic.
DepressionDepression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. The principal types of depression are major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disease (also called manic-depressive disease).
Depression SlideshowWhat is depression? Get information on symptoms, signs, tests, and treatments for many types of depression including major depression, chronic depression, teen depression, and postpartum depression.
Depression QuizMany people do not recognize the symptoms and warning signs of depression and depressive disorders in children and adults. With proper diagnosis, treatments and medications are available. Take this quiz to learn more about recovery from depression.
Dissociative Identity DisorderDissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder) is a mental illness in which a person has at least two distinct personalities. Symptoms and signs include lapses in memory, feeling unreal, blackouts in time, hearing voices in their head that are not their own, not recognizing themselves in the mirror, and finding items in one's possession but not recalling how they were acquired. Treatment usually involves psychotherapy, medications, and sometimes hypnosis.
DysthymiaDysthymia is a less severe form of chronic depression. Symptoms and signs include insomnia, suicidal thoughts, guilt, empty feeling, loss of energy, helplessness, sluggishness, and persistent aches and pains. Treatment may involve psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and antidepressants.
Is Electroconvulsive (ECT) Therapy Safe?Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the electrical induction of seizures in patients with severe mental illness that doesn't respond to drugs or talk therapy. Formerly known as electroshock therapy in the days when it often caused injury and severe side effects, ECT practices today include drugs that relax the skeletal muscles so the patient does not move or thrash as the seizure affects the brains electrical functioning. How ECT works isn't clear, but it's effectiveness is.
Mania vs. HypomaniaMania is an episode of irritable or euphoric mood and heightened energy that typically lasts a week and severely affects the sufferer's ability to function. Hypomania is a lesser form of mania that is less debilitating for the sufferer. Symptoms of mania last for seven days and include racing speech, decreased sleep, impulsivity, and grandiose ideas. Hypomania symptoms last at least four days and include trouble focusing, restlessness, and excessive spending. Treatments for both may incorporate psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.
Mental HealthMental health is an optimal way of thinking, relating to others, and feeling. All of the diagnosable mental disorders fall under the umbrella of mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and substance-abuse disorders are common types of mental illness. Symptoms and signs of mental illness include irritability, moodiness, insomnia, headaches, and sadness. Treatment may involve psychotherapy and medication.
Mental IllnessMental illness is any disease or condition affecting the brain that influence the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others. Mental illness is caused by heredity, biology, psychological trauma and environmental stressors.
SchizophreniaSchizophrenia is a disabling brain disorder that may cause hallucinations and delusions and affect a person's ability to communicate and pay attention. Symptoms of psychosis appear in men in their late teens and early 20s and in women in their mid-20s to early 30s. With treatment involving the use of antipsychotic medications and psychosocial treatment, schizophrenia patients can lead rewarding and meaningful lives.
Schizophrenia SlideshowWhat is schizophrenia? Learn about schizophrenia symptoms, signs, and treatment. Read about schizophrenia types such as paranoid schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia, and disorganized schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia QuizSchizophrenia is a complex psychiatric disorder. Learn more about the challenges of mental illness with the Schizophrenia Quiz.
Depression Therapy MythsFalse ideas scare many depression suffers away from therapy and the quick relief and help these pros can provide. Let our experts help you understand the truth about therapy.