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General Medical Questions
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Question : My daughter has been recovering from a manic episode in the hospital. I’m relieved that she is responding to her medicines because her doctors said she might have needed ECT.
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is Senior Editor of Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller is in clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he has been on staff for more than 25 years.

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August 14, 2012
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A:

ECT stands for electroconvulsive therapy. It is sometimes called electroshock or shock therapy.

ECT can save lives in severe cases of mood disorder. The treatment helps when drugs and therapy have failed. It may be good for someone who is dangerously suicidal, behaving dangerously or otherwise suffering intensely.

You might like to know:

  • ECT causes a seizure. It’s the seizure (not the electricity) that helps.
  • ECT treats both depression and mania.
  • The treatment is usually quicker and more effective than antidepressant drugs.
  • Most people require 6 to 12 treatments given over a 2-4 week period.
  • ECT has fewer risks and side effects than medicine.
  • Most patients are satisfied with the results.
  • Most are willing to have the treatment again if they relapse.

The seizure lasts less than three minutes. The entire procedure takes about 15 minutes.

Anesthesia puts the patient to sleep. Medicine is given to block muscle contractions. It involves about as much discomfort as minor surgery.

Drowsiness, mild nausea or a headache may happen. Most patients lose some memory for events just before or after the treatment. But few people suffer long term memory loss.

The best way to understand the experience is to talk to someone who has had ECT. Your doctor may be able to introduce you to someone.

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