What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has a controversial past, but for more than 50 years, it has been both a safe and highly effective treatment for severe depression and certain other conditions. ECT affects brain chemistry associated with depression by applying a small amount of electrical energy to the brain to induce a brief seizure -- without associated body convulsions.

ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is a treatment designed to ease severe depression, bipolar disorder, and some other mental illnesses. For many patients, this therapy gives significant relief.

In ECT, an electrical energy device sends electric pulses to the brain. This causes a brief seizure in the brain (a period of rapid nerve impulses) that lasts about 30 seconds to 2 minutes. During ECT treatments, you will receive general anesthesia -- medication that causes you to sleep through the treatment and feel no sensation. Medication is also used to prevent or suppress the muscle movements that otherwise come with seizures.

While ECT doesn't work for everyone, research shows it is usually more effective than other treatment methods for severe depression, with fewer side effects overall. Of course, as with any medical treatment or procedure, ECT also has side effects and risks.

What is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), formerly known as shock therapy, may be one of the most misunderstood therapies available to treat severe depression. This kind of therapy is sometimes use when psychotherapy and medication is not effective.

Generally, it is used with patients who experience treatment-resistant depression, patients who suffer from depression and mania, or suicidal patients.

ECT has improved since the 1940s and 1950s when it became controversial based on stories of its misuse in the media.

During ECT treatment, a patient receives a muscle relaxant and anesthesia. Electrodes then are affixed at specific placements on the head. The electrodes deliver electrical impulses of about 30 seconds, causing a seizure within the brain. The treatment generally is given three times per week for several sessions.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.