Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

If you have severe depression or bipolar disorder, and other treatments haven’t worked, you may want to consider ECT. ECT applies a brief electrical pulse to your brain while you are under anesthesia to help restore normal brain function and relieve negative symptoms.

What is electroconvulsive therapy?

An AHN psychiatrist, anesthesiologist, and a nurse or physician assistant will administer this electrical pulse to induce a therapeutic seizure while you are unconscious (under anesthesia). You may receive treatments up to three times a week to restore normal brain function and end feelings of depression.

Who needs ECT?

If you have severe, life-threatening depression, feel worthless and unable to function, you may benefit from ECT, especially if medications haven’t helped. We also use ECT to treat mania, psychosis, and schizophrenia. ECT is safe for pregnant and postpartum women.

What happens during ECT?

ECT has improved significantly over the years, and is much safer today. Because we give you anesthesia, you are unconscious and not aware of what’s happening. You’ll have an IV line to get medication — both the anesthesia and a muscle relaxant. We place electrodes on your head and then transmit a controlled dose of electricity, causing a therapeutic seizure that usually lasts less than 60 seconds.

Does ECT have side effects?

Because of the anesthesia, you may be a little confused after the treatment. This will go away within an hour. You may have memory loss, including forgetting events that occurred weeks or months before treatments or during the weeks of therapy. This usually improves once ECT is completed, but can persist. You may have some nausea or headache pain afterward, or muscle soreness.

ECT can affect the heart and, in rare cases, cause fractures or dental injury. General anesthesia reduces these risks. Talk to your physician if you have concerns about side effects.

Does ECT work?

Extensive research has found ECT to be highly effective to treat depression and other mental conditions. It may need to be used along with medications and psychotherapy for long-term relief of mental illness.

ECT works faster than many medications. You should experience less depression and an improved mood in two to four weeks. Many antidepressant drugs can take five to six weeks to have an effect and may have side effects. ECT has a success rate of 80% to 90% when compared to medications.

Insurance coverage

Though insurance plans cover mental health treatments differently, ECT is often covered for depressive disorders. Check with your insurance company to understand how your treatment will be covered.

Talk to our specialists

If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (412) 330-4429, Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM, or weekends from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM. If someone is in immediate danger, call The Hope Line: 1-800-SUICIDE, (412) 960-8673.