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ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy, ECT Therapy)

Abstract: What is the ECT (Electro Convulsive Treatment)? When is it used? Does it hurt? Is it safe?

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ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy, ECT Therapy)

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Written by: Petros Skapinakis, MD, MPH, PhD, lecturer of Psychiatry in the University of Ioannina Medical School, Greece. Eva Gerasi, postgraduate student in the Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Ioannina, Greece.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 31 Jul 2008.

What is ECT Therapy (Electro-Convulsive Therapy)? When is it used? Does it hurt? Is it safe?


ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy) is a treatment currently in use for severe depression. It involves the deliberate provocation of an epileptic fit by the passage of a small electric current between two electrodes placed on the scalp of the patient. The patients are being fully anaesthetized and given muscle relaxants to reduce the physical manifestations of the fit.

ECT is used for the treatment of severe depressive illness and it may be life-saving, because it acts more quickly than drug treatments. The greater the number of typical features of depression, the possibility grows for a good response to ECT. It is particularly effective in treating depression with psychotic features. It is also used in the treatment of certain types of schizophrenia and in mania. It is essential to continue drug treatment with anti-depressants after a successful course of ECT.

It is considered a very safe method of treatment. There are no absolute contra-indications to its use. There is no evidence that it causes brain damage or permanent intellectual impairment and the risk of death is similar to that of general anaesthesia for minor surgical procedures (2 deaths per 100000 treatments).

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