Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

What is ECT? Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT is a medical procedure used to treat symptoms of some mental illnesses such as severe depression, Bipolar Disorder and psychosis. ECT can also help people who have thoughts of hurting themselves or others. Your doctor may ask you to try ECT if other treatments have not worked in the past. During ECT, a small controlled electric current is passed through the brain.

How does ECT work? It is believed that ECT helps the part of the brain that controls emotions and thoughts to return to a more stable condition.

  • ECT treatments are usually done twice a week.
  • ECT may be used with other types of treatments, such as medications and psychotherapy.
  • After you feel better ECT may be continued to help keep you feeling better.

How do you prepare for ECT?

  • Your doctor will explain the procedure and answer your questions. You will need to agree in writing to have ECT.
  • You will have blood tests and a cardiogram (a test of your heartbeats) to make sure you do not have any physical problems that prevent ECT.
  • The day before treatment your doctor may make changes to your medication. You will need to stop eating and drinking after midnight.
  • In the morning, your nurse will help you get ready and will accompany you to the treatment room.
  • When you arrive in the treatment room, a nurse will put an intravenous line (TV) into your arm. Medication will be given to you to help relax your muscles and put you to sleep for the treatment.

What happens during the treatment?

  • Your heartbeat, blood pressure, oxygen levels and your brain waves will be monitored.
  • A blood pressure cuff is placed on one of your arms to measure your blood pressure. A small monitor is put on one of your fingers to measure the oxygen level in your blood.
  • When you are asleep, one or two electrodes (small metal discs) are placed on the side of your head. These electrodes carry the electrical current through your brain. The current lasts from 1 to 4 seconds. You will have a short seizure (your muscles contract and then relax). This lasts 20 to 60 seconds.
  • You will not feel pain.
  • You will not remember this part of the treatment because you are asleep.

What can you expect after treatment?

  • Your nurse will continue to check you’re your blood pressure, oxygen level, heartbeat and breathing.
  • After resting, you may eat and return to your regular activities.

What are the side effects of the treatment?

  • You may feel muscle aches, headache or jaw pain. The pain goes away after a few hours.
  • You may feel confused and forget what happened just before and after the treatment. Your memory usually returns after a few hours.

What are the risks?

Electroconvulsive Therapy is a safe treatment with the same type of risks as any other treatment that uses general anesthesia. Your doctor will discuss possible risks with you.

Do you have other question about ECT?

If you have any question, it is very important to discuss them your doctor or nurse before you have ECT.

nurse therapy

A nurse. Illustration: Megan Jorgensen