Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

Explains what electroconvulsive therapy is, what it is for and what happens during the treatment.

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About ECT

What is ECT and what is it used for?

ECT involves sending an electric current through the brain to trigger an epileptic fit, with the aim, in most cases, of relieving severe depression. It is occasionally used to treat mania or catatonia. The treatment is given under a general anaesthetic and uses muscle relaxants, so that the muscles only twitch slightly, and the body does not convulse during the fit.

ECT is used if you:

  • have severe, life-threatening depression
  • have not responded to medication or talking treatments
  • have found it helpful in the past and have asked to receive it again
  • are experiencing a manic episode which is severe or is lasting a long time
  • are catatonic (staying frozen in one position for a long time; or repeating the same movement for no obvious reason; or being extremely restless, unrelated to medication)
  • have severe postnatal depression. Because, when it works, ECT usually works very quickly, it can minimise the time that you are not able to care for and bond well with your baby (see postnatal depression).

It can be an effective treatment if you are seriously depressed, and no other treatment has worked for you. It is also suitable when it is important to have an immediate effect; for example, because you are so depressed that you are unable to eat or drink, and are in danger of kidney failure.

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