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Electroconvulsive Therapy

  • Electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT, may be a viable option for consenting adult patients with severe depression who are not responding to anti-depressant medications. It is also sometimes used for patients diagnosed with psychosis, catatonia, or manic symptoms.

    A Typical ECT Session

    For full therapeutic benefit, several sessions of ECT, typically three per week, are required. Usually, a course of six to 12 treatments is required over two to four weeks.

    Treatment most often begins with a hospital stay and continues after discharge until the recommended course is complete. Ongoing outpatient ECT treatment - once every one to two months - will prevent relapse.

    During the procedure, the following occurs:

    • Patient receives light anesthesia and a muscle relaxant
    • Electrodes placed at precise locations on the head deliver brief electrical impulses to the whole brain
    • Stimulation causes a brief (about 30 to 120 seconds) seizure within the brain
    • Patient does not consciously experience electrical stimulus
    • This modified seizure relieves the symptoms of depression

    Breaking through Misconceptions

    In the past, ECT had more severe side effects that caused many patients to reject it as a treatment option. In recent years, there have been many improvements in ECT. Temporary side effects of today’s ECT may include:

    • Irregular heart rhythm
    • Rise in pulse and blood pressure
    • Grogginess, muscle aches, nausea and headache

    Memory and learning difficulties typically return to normal in several weeks. Our doctors use the latest unilateral stimulation techniques, which treat one side of the brain, to reduce memory loss


    Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia
    5501 Old York Road
    Philadelphia, PA 19141
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    “The results of ECT in treating severe depression are among the most positive treatment effects in all of medicine…. For the sake of the many patients with major depression and their families, it is time to bring ECT out of the shadows.” – 2001 editorial from the Journal of the American Medical Association

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