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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

Explains what electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is, when it might be used and what happens during the treatment.

Memory loss

Many people experience memory loss after having ECT. Some people find this only lasts for a short time and their memories gradually return as they recover from ECT.

But some people experience more long-lasting or permanent memory loss, including losing personal memories or forgetting information they need to continue in their career or make sense of their personal relationships. Some people also find they have difficulty remembering new information from after they’ve had ECT.

Guidelines say that you should have a standard test of your memory and thinking abilities as part of your assessment before treatment and after each treatment session.

"I became unable to study or read as I simply couldn't concentrate and my ability to absorb or retain new information has decreased to almost non-existent."

Immediate side effects

You may experience other side effects immediately after treatment. These can include:

  • drowsiness (you may sleep for a while)
  • confusion
  • headache
  • feeling sick
  • aching muscles
  • loss of appetite.

Very rarely, people may experience prolonged seizures.

Some people also:

  • injure their teeth or jaw, or other muscles, although should be minimised by the muscle relaxant
  • become very confused between treatments, or more rarely become very restless or agitated.

There are also some risks associated with general anaesthetic. You can speak to your doctor or healthcare team if you have any questions about this.

"Immediately after treatments I was drowsy but not in pain and there were occasions of feeling nauseous."

Longer-term side effects

Longer-term effects can include:

  • apathy (loss of interest in things)
  • loss of creativity, drive and energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • loss of emotional responses
  • difficulty learning new information.

This information was published in July 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References and bibliography available on request.

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