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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can help patients suffering severe depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health illnesses when medications and other therapies are not working. ECT treatment can provide rapid improvement for patients whose mental illness and related symptoms are severe and difficult to manage.

Banner Behavioral Health facilities perform this highly specialized brain stimulation technique in a safe and controlled environment.

What Is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?

ECT is a type of Somatic Therapy that sends small electrical currents through the brain to trigger a brief seizure. ECT appears to change a patient’s brain chemistry, quickly reversing symptoms of certain mental health conditions.

The effects of the ECT procedure are not permanent. Generally, patients are prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Patients may also require maintenance ECT treatments.

Banner Health’s team of skilled, compassionate health care professionals crafts each patient a personalized treatment plan. To maximize your outcomes and ensure you receive the best care possible, your care team guides and supports you throughout treatment and follow-up care. We diligently monitor your progress to quickly and effectively shift strategies if needed.

Who Would Benefit from ECT Treatment?

ECT is most commonly used to help patients with clinical depression or those who don’t respond to medication or talk therapy. Also, because ECT works quickly, it can be used when patients are at immediate risk for suicide or self-harm.

ECT has proven to be most effective in treating patients with the following illnesses and disorders:

ECT can also be an option for more vulnerable patients, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • Older adults
  • Those unable to tolerate medication side effects
  • Those at-risk of drug interactions

What Can I Expect During ECT?

Banner Health’s team of care professionals complete physical and psychiatric evaluations prior to prescribing a patient ECT. This comprehensive approach ensures you are properly diagnosed, minimizes your risks of adverse side effects and maximizes your ECT benefits.

ECT is performed under general anesthesia. You are not awake for the procedure nor do you feel the electric currents. Patients also receive a muscle relaxer to help prevent convulsions caused by the seizure.

During the procedure, electrodes are positioned on your scalp. To cause a seizure, an electrical current is passed between the electrodes for 30 to 60 seconds. Your health vitals are monitored throughout the procedure to ensure your safety.

ECT may be done as an inpatient or outpatient procedure.

How Long Does ECT Take?

An ECT procedure generally takes five to 10 minutes plus time for preparation and recovery – in total, approximately one to two hours. Most patients have treatment 2 or 3 times a week for approximately 1 month – for a total of 8 to 12 treatments. Additionally, some patients may need maintenance treatment.

Are There Side Effects to ECT?

Side effects associated with ECT are uncommon and generally mild. Following the procedure, you may experience headaches, nausea, soreness and confusion for a few hours.

Additionally, some patients have memory loss of events a few months, weeks or days leading up to treatment. Usually, these memory problems improve after treatment ends.

All medical procedures, especially those using anesthesia, run the risk of medical complications. For this reason, Banner Health’s team of skilled doctors and nurses closely monitors your vitals throughout your procedure. Additionally, all Banner Health patients receiving ECT complete comprehensive physical and mental health testing to ensure they’re healthy enough for the procedure.

Why Does ECT Work?

There are a lot of unknowns about why ECT works. Doctors believe it promotes changes in how brain cells communicate, stimulates the development of new brain cells and increases neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Another theory is that a seizure somehow resets the brain.

Many patients notice an improvement in their symptoms after about six treatments.

Patients need to continue with ongoing treatment for their mental health condition to prevent relapse. Ongoing treatment may include medication and psychotherapy.