Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical procedure sometimes used to treat severe cases of depression that don’t respond to therapy or medication. ECT may be used to treat depression characterized by suicidal thoughts, detachment from reality, or anorexia. ECT may also be considered as treatment for depression in pregnant women or other people who want to avoid taking antidepressant medications.
What does it involve?
ECT involves using a controlled electrical current to induce a brief seizure. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia and the effects of a muscle relaxant, ensuring that the patient is unaware of the seizure and feels no pain. The seizure lasts about 60 seconds. ECT can be performed during hospitalization or on an outpatient basis.
It is believed that ECT works by causing rapid changes to brain chemistry that can quickly relieve the symptoms of depression.
A course of ECT usually involves six to 12 treatments over one month.
More than half of those with treatment-resistant depression achieve remission after a course of treatment with ECT.
Side effects of ECT can include nausea, headaches, jaw pain, muscle aches, and temporary confusion or memory loss that can last for hours or weeks after the treatment.
Due to the use of general anesthesia, there is a risk of blood pressure changes or heart problems.
You may be fearful about ECT due to stories about its early days, when much higher doses of electricity were used and side effects were more severe.
While some health insurance plans cover ECT, coverage may be limited. ECT can be expensive if you are paying privately.
Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to find or travel to an ECT provider.
Electroconvulsive therapy – MedlinePlus
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – Mayo Clinic
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