What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

Updated: Sep 24, 2019
  • Author: Mehul V Mankad, MD; Chief Editor: Dennis M Popeo, MD  more...
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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been demonstrated to be an effective and safe treatment for many psychiatric disorders. [1] The use of ECT still generates significant controversy, however. It has been negatively portrayed in movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, House on Haunted Hill, and Requiem for a Dream. [2]

Despite such debate, ECT is widely used in the United States and endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). [3]  Professional associations in Austria, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, and India have offered professional guidelines for its use. [4]  Efficacy rates for the use of ECT in populations of treatment-resistant depression patients exceed 85%, eclipsing all other treatments for severe depression. [5]  In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration reclassified ECT devices from Category III (higher risk) to Category II (moderate risk) when used in severe depressive episodes and catatonia. [6]

The image below depicts electroconvulsive therapy.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a safe and effe Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a safe and effective treatment for major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, catatonia, schizophrenia, and several other conditions. ECT uses an electric current to cause a seizure in the brain and is one of the fastest ways to treat severe symptoms of mental illness. It should be considered when a patient does not improve with medication or psychotherapy or when the severity of symptoms is life-threatening.

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