What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for bipolar disorder?

In situations where medication, psychosocial treatment, and the combination of these interventions prove ineffective, or work too slowly to relieve severe symptoms of bipolar disorder (for example, psychosis or suicidality), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be considered. ECT may also be considered to treat acute episodes when medical conditions, including pregnancy, make the use of medications too risky. ECT is a highly effective treatment for severe depressive, manic, and/or mixed episodes. ECT involves the application of electrical stimulus to the brain to produce very short (30 second) generalized seizures. The procedure is done under anaesthesia and the patient doesn't feel any pain. For the procedure to be therapeutic, it is generally done 6-12 times over a period of a few weeks. The possibility of long-lasting memory problems, although a concern in the past, has been significantly reduced with modern ECT techniques. However, the potential benefits and risks of ECT, and of available alternative interventions, should be carefully reviewed and discussed with individuals considering this treatment and, where appropriate, with family or friends.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used when medications are too risky because of a medical condition (like for some women who are pregnant), or when other medications and therapy have failed to relieve symptoms.


If medications and other therapies have not worked to treat your bipolar symptoms or you are concerned about complications with a medical condition you have, talk to your doctor about whether ECT is a viable option for you.

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