Are people awake during electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia?

Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Medicine
Typically, people are sedated (put to sleep) during electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In decades past, people were not put to sleep with anesthesia during the procedure, and serious side effects occurred, including physical injuries such broken bones. Using general anesthesia has made ECT safer, but some people can still have a reaction to the anesthesia. To reduce this risk, doctors thoroughly evaluate the health of ECT participants before administering the anesthesia. An anesthesiologist monitors patients during the procedure to make sure there are no dangerous consequences. Along with anesthesia, patients take a muscle relaxant before having ECT. The combination of anesthesia and the muscle relaxant leave patients unaware of the procedure, and unconscious. In less than 15 minutes, the procedure is complete, the anesthesia wears off, and the person is taken to a recovery room.

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