Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Depression Health Center

Font Size

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) for Depression

For some people with severe or hard-to-treat depression, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the best treatment. This treatment, sometimes referred to as "electroshock therapy," is often misunderstood and incorrectly viewed as a harsh, cruel treatment. In actuality, it is painlessly performed under general anesthesia and is considered the most effective treatment for severe depression. It can be lifesaving.

ECT works quickly, which is why it's often the treatment of choice for people with highly severe, psychotic, or suicidal depression. For these people, waiting for antidepressants or therapy to work might be dangerous. However, the drawback is that the effects of ECT usually don't last, and further treatments will likely be necessary.

Recommended Related to Depression

Dealing With Chronic Illnesses and Depression

For millions of people, chronic illnesses and depression are facts of life. A chronic illness is a condition that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely, although some illnesses can be controlled or managed through lifestyle (diet and exercise) and certain medications. Examples of chronic illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Many people with these illnesses become depressed. In fact, depression is...

Read the Dealing With Chronic Illnesses and Depression article > >

ECT is never used on someone who doesn't want it.

How Electroconvulsive Therapy Works

With ECT, an electric charge is delivered to the brain and causes a seizure. For reasons that doctors don't completely understand, this seizure helps relieve the symptoms of depression. ECT does not cause any structural damage to the brain.

The procedure itself typically requires a stay in the hospital, although more and more it is being performed on an outpatient basis. During the procedure, you will be put to sleep under general anesthesia. You won't feel anything. Your doctor will also give you a muscle relaxant. Electrodes will be applied to your scalp and deliver an electric current. This electrical stimulation causes a brief seizure. The seizure is controlled with medications so your body doesn't move. You will wake up a few minutes later without any memory of the treatment.

The number of required sessions varies. Many people have six to 12 sessions over a period of several weeks. After initial treatment, you might require further ECT treatments in addition to depression medicine and therapy to prevent your depression from returning.

Studies have shown that ECT works for many people who have treatment-resistant depression. One study of 39 people with treatment-resistant depression compared the effects of an antidepressant with ECT. After two to three weeks, 71% of people who received ECT had a positive response to treatment. But only 28% who received the antidepressant had a positive response after four weeks of treatment. The results were published in 1997 in the medical journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia.

Today on WebMD

Differences between feeling depressed and feeling blue.
jk rowling
Famous people who've struggled with persistent sadness.
depressed man sitting on hallway floor
Learn the truth about this serious illness.
Sad woman looking out of the window
Tips to stay the treatment course.
unhappy teen boy
Health Check
jk rowling
Pills with smiley faces
Teen girl huddled outside house
Depressed man sitting in hospital hallway
antidepressants slideshow
pill bottle
Winding path