Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical procedure in which electrodes are placed on the patient’s scalp and a finely controlled electric current is applied while the patient is under general anesthesia. The current causes a brief seizure in the brain for a period of 1-3 minutes. ECT is typically used to treat a patient with severe refractory depression. ECT is one of the safest, fastest and most effective means to relieve symptoms in severely depressed or suicidal patients, in patients who suffer from mania in Bipolar Disorder and in other severe mental illnesses. It is typically administered by a team of trained medical professionals that includes a psychiatrist, an anesthesiologist, and a nurse or physician assistant. ECT is generally used as a later treatment option when severe depression is unresponsive to other forms of therapy or medications or when the patient is so ill that his or her life is in danger. Due to its speed and effectiveness ECT is also utilized when it is too dangerous to wait until medications take effect which can take weeks or longer.

Extensive research has found ECT to be incredibly effective for the relief of severe depression. Clinical evidence indicates that ECT will produce substantial improvement in approximately 80 percent of patients with severe depression. It is also used for other severe mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. ECT is sometimes used in treating individuals with catatonia, a condition in which a person can become increasingly agitated and unresponsive. A person with catatonia can develop severe dehydration from not eating or drinking and emergent ECT may be the only viable option.

Although ECT can be very effective for many individuals with serious mental illness, it is not a cure. The typical course of ECT treatments is 6-12 sessions. To prevent the illness from returning, most people that have had ECT need to continue with some type of maintenance treatment. This typically means psychotherapy, ongoing medication management and in some circumstances, ongoing (maintenance) ECT treatments.

Boca Raton Psychiatry and Delray Beach Psychiatry do not perform ECT but can refer to local hospitals that have the equipment, anesthesia and resources available.


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