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What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) remains the gold standard of treatment for severe, medication-resistant depression. Recent advances in technology have improved the safety and tolerability of the procedure. ECT is used to treat mental illness via the application of a controlled electrical stimulus to the scalp which induces a brief generalized seizure in the brain. The therapy is administered in a hospital room, while the patient is under general anesthesia.

ECT is most commonly used to treat severe depression in patients unresponsive to other forms of treatment or in patients in whom it is dangerous to wait for medications to take effect. This therapy is highly effective as a depression treatment modality and is one of the fastest therapies to relieve symptoms. Less often, it is used to reverse symptoms of other mental illnesses, including:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Severe mania
  • Catonia
  • Treatment-resistant obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Tourette syndrome

How does an individual know if he/she should try ECT?
Patients who have not previously responded to or have not tolerated medications may benefit from ECT. Consultation with a psychiatrist specializing in Electroconvulsive Therapy will help clarify if ECT is appropriate

Is it covered by insurance?
ECT is covered by most, if not every, insurance carrier

What happens before treatment?
As with any minor surgical procedure that requires general anesthesia, each patient undergoing ECT must be deemed medically appropriate (i.e. must undergo medical clearance by their primary care physician). Prior to the procedure itself, the patient will have to refrain from eating or drinking after midnight the day of treatment.

Can I continue taking my medication?
Most medications can be continued during ECT but there are some that may interfere with the treatment. Please consult with the prescribing psychiatrist before making any changes to your medication regimen.

How does ECT work?
As mentioned previously, the therapeutic action of ECT relies on the generation of a seizure in the brain. Because the treatment is done is a controlled environment, we can prevent the seizure from manifesting in the patient's body. Controlled seizure activity in the brain has been shown to result in an improvement in many psychiatric symptoms (including depression, psychosis and mania). When patients are suffering from these symptoms, it is because certain areas in the brain are overactive or underactive; ECT works by re-setting these abnormally functioning circuits.

How many treatments are needed?
On average between 8 and 12 acute treatments. ECT is delivered three days per week (M/W/F) for anywhere between 3 and 5wks.

When are improvements noticed?
Improvements in mood and other psychiatric symptoms can be seen as early as the first 3-5 treatments

What happens after ECT?
Once symptoms are in remission, many patients benefit from the use of specific medications or ECT to maintain the effects of the initial treatment.