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What to Expect During ECT


Doctors prepare a patient for electroconvulsive therapy, the administering of mild shocks to the brain. It is often used to treat severe depression.
Doctors prepare a patient for electroconvulsive therapy, the administering of mild shocks to the brain. It is often used to treat severe depression.
Photo by Joe McNally/Getty Images

When a person undergoes electroconvulsive shock therapy, or ECT, the doctor puts him or her to sleep by using an anesthetic. Then, the doctor gives the person a medicine to temporarily paralyze the muscles so that they do not contract during treatment, which could cause sprains or fractures. The person receives other medications to control the heart rate, which the doctor will monitor throughout the procedure.

After giving the medications, the doctor places an electrode over one temple and on the middle of the forehead. A small electric current is then passed through the electrodes into the brain for a second or less. The current produces a seizure that typically lasts for 25 to 60 seconds.

Throughout the procedure, the person rests comfortably. A few minutes after the seizure, the anesthesia begins to wear off. After waking, a person who has undergone ECT may feel a little confused or have a headache or muscle stiffness. Typically, these effects wear off within an hour. Side effects may include problems with short-term memory, but this usually resolves over time.

 


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