Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sends an electronic current through the brain. This current causes brief seizure activity. This causes changes in brain chemistry. ECT can reduce symptoms associated several mental health conditions.

  • Call Your Doctor

    After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

    • Worsening of symptoms, including feelings of hopelessness or helplessness and thoughts of suicide—If you have thoughts of suicide, call your doctor or therapist right away.
    • Confusion and memory loss that lasts longer than expected
    • Headache, muscle aches, or soreness that lasts longer than expected
    • Any new symptoms or concerns

    If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

  • Definition


    Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sends an electronic current through the brain. This current causes brief seizure activity. This causes changes in brain chemistry. ECT can reduce symptoms associated several mental health conditions.

    The Brain
    Color coded brain
    During ECT, an electronic current is delivered to the brain.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • What to Expect

  • Reasons for Procedure

    ECT is commonly used to treat:

    • Severe depression that does not respond to medication or that causes serious symptoms, like psychosis and suicidal thoughts
    • Schizophrenia
    • Severe mania that does not respond to medication

    In some cases, ECT may also be used for other mental or neurological conditions.

  • Possible Complications

    Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems like:

    • Short-term changes in blood pressure and heart rate
    • Short-term abnormal heart rate
    • Headache
    • Nausea
    • Muscle aches or soreness
    • Cognitive impairment, such as problems with thinking and memory, usually go away after a couple of weeks. In some cases, memory problems may last for several months.

    Rare complications include:

    • Heart attack

    • Long-lasting
      seizure
    • Death

    Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:


    • Having a history of heart problems,
      stroke, or
      high blood pressure
    • Pregnancy—this form of therapy may increase the risk of complications in the fetus
    • Not responding well to medication
    • Increased age