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Electroconvulsive Therapy


Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a treatment that sends a small electric current to your brain to cause a seizure. The seizure affects the chemicals in your brain, which may make your brain cells work better. ECT is used to treat certain conditions, such as depression, that do not get better after medicines or other therapies have been tried.


Before your treatment:

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.
  • An IV is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.
  • Medicines: You will be given medicines to calm you, make you sleepy, or relax your muscles. You may also be given medicine to prevent a headache from the ECT treatment.

During your treatment:

  • You are given general anesthesia to keep you completely asleep. This is medicine that may be given in your IV or as a gas that you breathe. You may wear a face mask or have a tube placed in your mouth and throat to help you breathe better. A device called a bite block is placed in your mouth. This will help protect your teeth and decrease the chance that you will bite your tongue during the treatment. Healthcare providers may put restraints on your arms and legs keep them from moving. Healthcare providers will watch your heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure.
  • A device produces an electric current that travels through electrodes. Healthcare providers place the electrodes on your head. An electric current is sent from the device to your brain to create a seizure. The seizure usually lasts for 35 to 80 seconds. Your body will move very little, or may not move at all during the seizure. Healthcare providers watch your seizure and record how long it lasts.

After your treatment:

You are taken to a room where you can rest. Oxygen is given to help you breathe. Tell a healthcare provider if you have a headache, feel sick, or have other problems.

  • Activity: You may need to lie in bed for a few hours. Your healthcare provider will tell you when it is okay to get out of bed. If you feel weak or dizzy after you get up, sit or lie down right away. There is a greater chance that you will fall after ECT treatments. Ask someone to help you when you want to stand up or walk.
  • Mental status exam: Healthcare providers will ask you questions to check your memory and speech. They will ask you if you know where you are, and what time it is. Healthcare providers will also test how well you can think by testing your math skills, judgment, and reasoning. The results of these tests tell healthcare providers how your brain is working after ECT.
  • A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine.
  • Vital signs: Healthcare providers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask about your pain. Vital signs give information about your current health.


  • Common problems after ECT include confusion and trouble remembering things. Memory often gets better 2 weeks after the treatment, but some memories may be forgotten forever. You may have nausea, vomiting, a headache, and muscle aches. Your blood pressure may increase, or the rhythm of your heartbeat may change. ECT may not help to treat your condition, or you may need more sessions before you feel better. Your problems or symptoms may come back after ECT treatments.
  • Certain medical problems can increase your risk of problems after ECT treatments. These medical problems include a stroke, heart attack, or increased pressure in your brain caused by a tumor or blockage. Other medical problems include certain kidney tumors or a high-risk pregnancy.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.