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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

VCU Medical Center’s Brain Stimulation Program offers Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) as a well studied, safe and effective medical procedure. ECT is used to treat a variety of psychiatric disorders when patients have not responded to other treatment modalities. With ECT, a small amount of electrical current is passed carefully through a person’s brain to trigger a brief seizure. Biological changes that result from the seizure are believed to cause changes in brain chemistry quickly reversing symptoms of specific psychiatric disorders.

ECT is generally safe and painless; it is conducted while patients are under brief general anesthesia. ECT is administered in a controlled setting by a team of psychiatrist, certified psychiatric nurses, and anesthesiologists. Here at VCU Medical Center, ECT is administered in our ECT Suite located in the North Hospital. We provide both inpatient and outpatient services, depending upon the patient’s medical and psychiatric condition.

For more information, please visit other pages on our site or call:
TMS Clinic: 804-628-1766
ECT Referrals: 804-828-4570 or 804-628-1410

Frequently Asked Questions about ECT

How does ECT work?

ECT causes brief seizures that result in a biological change which is critical to the effectiveness of the treatment. It is believed the changes in the brain chemistry, produced by ECT, are crucial to restoring normal function.

When is ECT Used?

ECT is one of the fastest methods to reduce symptoms who severely depressed or suicidal. It is also used in patients who suffer from mania, and some forms of schizophrenia. ECT is generally used when patients have not responded to other treatments, when other treatment modalities appear to be less safe or difficult to tolerate, or when psychiatric/medical conditions require patients to recover quickly. For some patients, the medical risk of medications may be greater than the medical risk of ECT. It is often used when patients pose a severe threat to themselves or others, as ECT provides faster relief than medications.

How is ECT performed?

Before ECT is administered, the patient’s medical condition is carefully assessed including a medical history, physical examination and necessary medical test. Prior to the actual ECT procedure, the patient is put to sleep using general anesthesia, and a muscle relaxant is given. Electrodes are placed on the patient’s scalp and a controlled electric current is applied, which causes a brief seizure in the brain. Patients are carefully monitored during the treatment. The patient awakens minutes later. When treatment is completed, the patient recovers while monitored by trained staff.

What is the course of Treatment?

Typically, patients receive ECT 3 times weekly for a total of 8-10 “index” treatments. Upon completion of index treatments, many patients are scheduled for maintenance treatments tailored for the individual.

Does ECT Cause Brain Damage?

No, there is strong evidence that suggest ECT does not cause brain damage. In animal studies, there is no evidence of brain damage from the brief seizures caused by ECT. In adults, a seizure must continue for several hours before brain damage can occur. During ECT treatments, the seizures last approximately 1 minute. In studies, brain scans have been performed after ECT treatments and show no brain injury.

What are the side effects of ECT?

The most common side effect of ECT is slight confusion after the patient awakens; they may feel confused. This is due to the anesthesia and usually clears within 1 hour. Some patients may experience headaches following treatment; however, the pain can be managed with over the counter pain medication. Memory loss may result from ECT. Following treatment patients may have difficulty remembering conversations or recent events. This memory loss is short lived and has not been shown to last for longer than a few weeks.

What is the cost of ECT?

ECT costs are covered by most health insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid. The amount you pay depends on your health insurance plan.