How is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) performed?

Before ECT treatment, a patient is put to sleep using general anesthesia, and a muscle relaxant is given. ECT causes the patient to have a seizure. Electrodes are placed on the patient’s scalp and a finely controlled electric current is applied, which causes a brief seizure in the brain. Because the muscles are relaxed, the seizure will usually be limited to slight movement of the hands and feet.

Patients are carefully monitored during the treatment. The patient awakens minutes later, does not remember the treatment or events surrounding the treatment, and may feel confused. This confusion typically lasts for only a short period of time. ECT is given up to three times a week for 2 to 4 weeks.

A course of ECT is usually followed by psychotherapy and medicine under a psychiatrist's care.

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

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