Skip to Content

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.


The week before your treatment:

  • Ask a family member or friend to drive you home after your treatment. Do not drive yourself home.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need to stop using aspirin or any other prescribed or over-the-counter medicine before your procedure or surgery.
  • You may need to have blood tests, x-rays, an ECG, or other tests. Brain imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI may also be done. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these and other tests that you may need. Write down the date, time, and location of each test.
  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your procedure.Ask healthcare providers about directions for eating and drinking.
  • You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives healthcare providers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.

The night before your treatment:

  • You may be given medicine to help you sleep.
  • You may need to fast overnight. This means you are not allowed to eat any solid food after midnight. You may drink some water to take medicine up to 1 hour before your treatment.

The day of your treatment:

  • An anesthesiologist will talk to you before your surgery. You may need medicine to keep you asleep or numb an area of your body during surgery. Tell healthcare providers if you or anyone in your family has had a problem with anesthesia in the past.
  • You may be given medicine to help prevent side effects caused by ECT, such as headaches.
  • Healthcare providers may insert an intravenous tube (IV) into your vein. A vein in the arm is usually chosen. Through the IV tube, you may be given liquids and medicine.


What will happen:

You will be given medicines to calm you, make you sleepy, or relax your muscles. Medicine called general anesthesia will also be given to keep you asleep during the treatment. When you are asleep, electrodes will be placed on your head and a small electric current will be sent to your brain. You will wake up 5 to 10 minutes after the treatment.

After your treatment:

You will be taken to a room where you can rest. Healthcare providers will watch you closely for any problems. When they see that you are okay, you may be allowed to go home. If they want you to stay in the hospital, you will be taken back to your hospital room. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay.


  • You cannot make it to your treatment on time.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.

Seek Care Immediately if

  • You have a fever.
  • You have shortness of breath or your heart feels like it is beating faster than normal.
  • You feel like hurting or killing yourself or others.


  • 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.

Care Agreement

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.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

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.

Further information

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