What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure in which a brief application of electric current to the brain, through the scalp, induces a seizure. It is typically used to treat a patient who is suffering from severe depression.

Why is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) used?

ECT is one of the fastest ways to relieve symptoms in severely depressed or suicidal patients, in patients who suffer from mania, and in other mental illnesses. ECT is generally used as a later treatment option when severe depression is unresponsive to other forms of therapy, or when the patient is so ill that his or her life is in danger. It also is used when these patients pose a severe threat to themselves or others, and it is dangerous to wait until medications take effect.

Making an informed decision about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

Before ECT is considered, you should discuss all available treatment options for your condition with your doctor. If ECT is recommended, you should receive a complete medical examination including a history, physical, neurological exam, ECG (heart test), and lab tests. Your medication history should be carefully evaluated and monitored.

If you are considering ECT as a treatment option, be advised that it may provide temporary improvement but has a high relapse rate. Many doctors advocate follow-up treatment that includes medicine or ECT given at less regular intervals, called "maintenance ECT." Short-term memory loss is the major side effect, although this usually goes away 1 to 2 weeks after treatment.

You should be educated and informed about ECT and any treatment prior to receiving it. Ask for educational literature, videos, and an honest discussion with your doctor about the potential benefits and side effects.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/13/2014.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy