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Electroconvulsive Therapy and Other Depression Treatments

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How Is ECT Performed?

Prior to ECT treatment, a patient is given a muscle relaxant and is put to sleep with a general anesthesia. Electrodes are placed on the patient's scalp and a finely controlled electric current is applied. This current causes a brief seizure in the brain.

Because the muscles are relaxed, the visible effects of 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 it, and is often confused. The confusion typically lasts for only a short period of time.

ECT is usually given up to three times a week for a total of two to four weeks.

Who Might Benefit From ECT?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, ECT can be beneficial and safe in the following situations:

  • When a need exists for rapid treatment response, such as in pregnancy
  • When a patient refuses food and that leads to nutritional deficiencies
  • When a patient's depression is resistant to antidepressant therapy
  • When other medical ailments prevent the use of antidepressant medication
  • When the patient is in a catatonic stupor
  • When the depression is accompanied by psychotic features
  • When treating bipolar disorder, including both mania and depression
  • When treating mania
  • When treating patients who have a severe risk of suicide
  • When treating patients who have had a previous response to ECT
  • When treating patients with psychotic depression or psychotic mania
  • When treating patients with major depression
  • When treating schizophrenia
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