Electroconvulsive therapy

Alternative names
Shock treatment; ECT


Electroconvulsive therapy is a treatment for depression that uses electricity to induce a seizure.

How the test is performed

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is most often performed in a hospital’s operating or recovery room. General anesthesia is provided by an anesthesiologist. Medications are then given to prevent the seizure from spreading to the body.

A brief shock of less than 2 seconds is administered to the head to induce a short seizure.

How to prepare for the test

Because general anethesia is used for this procedure, you will be advised to not eat or drink before ECT.

Ask your health care provider whether you should take any daily medications in the morning before ECT.

How the test will feel

Some people report mild confusion and headache following ECT. Hospital staff monitor the patient closely after the procedure to ensure complete recovery.

Why the test is performed

Electroconvulsive therapy is the most effective treatment known for depression. ECT is also used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, catatonia, and some psychotic disorders.

What the risks are
Possible adverse effects from ECT include the following:

  • Confusion  
  • Memory loss  
  • Headache  
  • Hypotension  
  • Tachycardia  
  • Allergic reaction to the anesthesia

There is a slight risk of death (3 out of 10,000 people).

Special considerations
Some medical conditions place patients at greater risk for side effects of ECT. Discuss any conditions or concerns with your health care provider when deciding whether ECT is right for you.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by Potos A. Aagen, M.D.

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