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Explains what electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is, when it might be used and what happens during the treatment.
It’s more common to have ECT as an inpatient in a hospital, which means you will stay in hospital overnight. But outpatient treatment is sometimes possible – this means you won’t have to stay overnight.
If you’re staying in a hospital that doesn’t offer ECT, you’ll need to visit another hospital with an ECT clinic to have the treatment.
If you are an outpatient, you will need to have someone with you to accompany you home, as it’s important that you aren’t alone when leaving hospital. You, or your friend or family member who is with you, should be asked at the hospital to confirm that:
The ECT clinic should have three rooms:
The clinic should be organised so that the rooms are separate and you can move easily from one room to the next, without people observing you from other rooms. Staff at the clinic will usually include nurses, psychiatrists and anaesthetists.
"I was so surprised after my first treatment that it was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated it being."
To prepare for ECT, you should:
And you should not:
"The actual treatment was disorientating and overwhelming... I was overwhelmed by how quickly it was happening."
Both types cause a seizure of the whole brain. Bilateral ECT is more commonly used and is believed to be more effective, but may also be more likely to cause memory problems. Unilateral ECT can have fewer side effects, but may also be less effective. You may be given unilateral ECT if it has helped you in the past, or if you have had unpleasant side effects after bilateral ECT.
After the seizure, the mouth guard is removed and you will be turned on your side. The anaesthetist will provide oxygen until the muscle relaxant wears off (after a few minutes) and you start breathing on your own again.
You will slowly come round, although you may feel very groggy. You may sleep for a while after treatment.
You will need to recover from the general anaesthetic as well as the ECT treatment itself.
ECT is usually given twice a week for 3-6 weeks, meaning you might have around 6-12 sessions. You should be assessed after each treatment to see if another one is necessary, or isn’t advisable.
ECT tends to provide short-term improvements, so it can be helpful to try other types of treatments after having it. This could help you make the most of any improvement you have experienced from ECT.
This information was published in July 2019. We will revise it in 2022.
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