Electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT, is an effective treatment method used to address severe episodes of major depression, mania and some types of schizophrenia. It involves the use of a brief, controlled electrical current to produce a seizure within the brain. This seizure activity is believed to bring about certain biochemical changes which may cause symptoms to diminish or even disappear. A series of seizures, generally four to 12, given at a rate of two or three per week, is required to produce such a therapeutic effect (sometimes a smaller or larger number may be necessary).

Is ECT Effective?

There have been many advances in the treatment of mental disorders in recent years, however ECT remains the most effective, fastest and safest treatment for many cases, particularly when alternative treatments such as medications are either not effective or not safe. Your doctor will discuss with you why ECT is being recommended in your case and what alternative treatments may be available. ECT is most effective in major depression, where it has a strong beneficial effect for up to 80 or 90 percent of patients. Still there is no guarantee that ECT, or for that matter any treatment, will be effective.

Is ECT Safe?

All treatments have risks and side effects; however, not treating your depression also carries potentially significant risks. Prior to ECT, patients will undergo a careful medical, psychiatric and laboratory evaluation to make sure that the treatments can be administered in the safest, most effective manner possible. Medications may be adjusted to minimize the risk and maximize the effectiveness of the treatments. For most patients the side effects of ECT are relatively minor.