Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy is a medical procedure used to treat a variety of psychiatric conditions. It has been used world wide since 1938. ECT is available through Behavioral Health Services at St. Joseph Hospital.

ECT is performed in a recovery room by a team of medical professionals that includes a specially trained and certified psychiatrist, anesthesiologist and nurses. To ensure the patient's safety, ECT can only be administered after the patient has undergone a medical work up ordered by the psychiatrist. ECT, which improves or eliminates symptoms, is a safe and effective treatment for patients deemed appropriate candidates by the psychiatrist.

Is ECT painful?
No. Patients receiving ECT are anesthetized and are asleep during the procedure.

How long will someone receiving ECT be asleep?
A short lasting anesthetic agent is used and patients usually awaken within five to ten minutes, although they may remain sleepy for some time after the procedure.

How long does the ECT seizure last?
The seizure, which takes place in the brain, usually lasts between 30 and 60 seconds. Usually, the seizure stops on its own, but the anesthesiologist can stop the seizure with medication if it lasts longer than desired.

Does the person who's receiving ECT convulse during the procedure?
No. Once patients are asleep from the anesthesia, they are given a muscle relaxant so their bodies do not convulse.

Can children receive ECT?
Yes. However currently St. Joseph Hospital only treats adults with ECT.

Are the elderly too old for ECT?
No. If the patient has been medically cleared to receive a brief anesthesia and ECT age is not a deterrent.

What are the possible side effects of ECT?
Possible side effects include: headache and or muscle aches and pains, short-term memory loss and confusion. The side effects are almost temporary and resolve in a short time.

Can ECT cause death?
ECT is one of the safest procedures done under a general anesthetic. The rate of death from ECT is less than one-tenth of one percent.

Does ECT cause brain damage?
No. Spontaneous seizures in someone with a seizure disorder can lead to lack of oxygen if help is not available. ECT is done is a safe setting with oxygen supplied by an anesthesiologist who maintains an open airway.

Can ECT cause a seizure disorder to develop?
No. ECT actually raises the seizure threshold making it harder for the brain to have a seizure and making it less likely for spontaneous seizures to occur.

How many treatments are involved in ECT?
ECT is done as a series of treatments, usually totaling between six and 12. The first several treatments are administered three times a week and then less frequently as the series continues.

Are all ECT series treatments given as an inpatient procedure?
No. Many patients continue their series of treatments as outpatients.

Why does ECT require so many treatments?
In the same way that antibiotics must be taken over time to be effective, the benefits of ECT build as the series continues.

Is there a risk of receiving too much electrical current during an ECT procedure?
No. The ECT machine is programmed by the manufacturer to deliver a safe amount of current. The machine is incapable of delivering more than the safe, preset maximum.

How much electricity is used to cause the seizure in the brain?
The amount of current used in ECT is approximately the amount required to light a 100 watt light bulb for one second.

When ECT is administered, is there any danger to those around in receiving a shock?
No. The stimulus is delivered only to the patient's temples and is not conducted anywhere else in the body or to others touching the patient.


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