What Is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) And How Does It Work?

Dr. McDonald answers the question: 'What Is Electroconvulsive/Shock Therapy?'

ByWilliam Mcdonald, M.d., Associate Professor Of Psychiatry, The Emory Clinic
February 27, 2008, 3:35 PM

— -- Question: What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and how does it work?

Answer: Electroconvulsive therapy is a treatment for depression. Electroconvulsive therapy's been around since the 1930s and is one of our oldest treatments for depression. And the reasons it's lasted this long that it's one of the most effective treatments for depression -- particularly for people with depression that hasn't responded to the typical medications.

Electroconvulsive therapy works by stimulating the brain. Essentially electroconvulsive therapy releases the same types of neurochemicals -- or transmitters -- that are released when you take antidepressant medication. However electroconvulsive therapy can actually work much quicker than medications and people can actually get well in a period of a week as opposed to the six to eight weeks it can take with medication. So it's used in people who have very severe depression that needs an immediate treatment.

Electroconvulsive therapy's also used when patients have treatments that are resistant to medication -- that is the patient who's tried multiple different medications and not really responded very well.

Electroconvulsive therapy is also used in bipolar disorder -- both for mania as well as for depression. And in some cases electroconvulsive therapy's been used to treat schizophrenia. Particularly when schizophrenia first starts as the acute onset, that's the time when electroconvulsive therapy's been used -- although these days medications have largely supplanted the use of ECT and schizophrenia.

Next: Is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Safe And Effective For The Treatment Of Depression?

Previous: What Is The Effectiveness Of Newer Treatments Like Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)?

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