Common Questions about ECT
What Is ECT?
ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, is the use
of electrical stimulation to the brain to
produce a seizure. ECT has been found to
decrease and relieve depression and other
mental health symptoms.
Why Is ECT Used?
ECT is most often used to treat major
depression. If other forms of treatment have
not been helpful, often ECT will work. For
instance, when antidepressant drugs have
not been helpful or they can’t be used for
other reasons, ECT may be tried. ECT may
also be used for psychosis, mania, or
catatonia when a patient has not been helped
first by other forms of treatment.
How Do I Prepare for ECT?
Your doctor will explain the benefits and the
risks of ECT and why it is an option for you.
If you choose to have ECT, you must first
sign a consent form for the treatment. Other
tests or studies will be done to ensure that
you are ready.
If you are taking benzodiazepines, you
should not take them after 6 pm before the
ECT. After midnight the night before ECT,
you should not eat or drink anything. The
morning of, you will be asked to put on a
gown. The nurse will ask you to empty your
bladder and take out dentures, remove eye
glasses, or any hairpins. You will be taken
on a cart to the room where the ECT is
performed. Once there, doctors, nurses and
an anesthesiologist trained to do ECT will
care for you.
What Happens During ECT?
You will be given medicines through an
intravenous (IV) to make you drowsy and to
relax your muscles. During the treatment,
you will be asleep the entire time and closely
monitored by an anesthesiologist. You
should feel nothing. Wires will be attached
to your forehead. A very brief electrical
charge will be given through the wires. As a
result, you will have a seizure for about 30
seconds to 2 minutes. Movements are very
slight. You may have goose bumps and your
eyes may flutter.
What Can I Expect After ECT?
After ECT, you will wake up within a few
minutes. You will likely be confused for a
couple of minutes to hours. A nurse will
check your vital signs often. The nurse will
help to assure that you are comfortable.
Since you may forget, the nurse will tell you
where you are and what has happened. Keep
in mind confusion will most often only last a
short time. Nurses will be there to help you
through this time. If you have any headache,
muscle aches or pain, medicines will be
offered. Dizziness, nausea, headache,
muscle soreness, most often go away the
same day of the treatment. You should
expect to feel like yourself within 2 hours.
After that, you can resume your normal
routines, except for driving a car. It is
normal to have amnesia related to the
hospital visit after an ECT treatment. Some
people notice a problem with their memory.
Please note that this rarely lasts longer than
a few months.
What About When I Go Home?
If you are having ECT as an outpatient, you
must have an adult take you home and stay
with you until the next morning. For the
first day, you should also not drive any
machinery, use power tools, or do other
activities that require clear thinking.
What Is The Usual Course of Treatment?
People often improve a great deal after a few
treatments. Yet further treatments are given
for a more complete effect. For depression,
patients tend to have 8-12 treatments. There
are no guarantees against relapse. Some
patients need added treatments 1-2 times per
month. Each time you have ECT, we will
explain it with care since you may forget the
For More Information
For answers to your questions about ECT,
please ask your doctor or nurse. We want
you to understand ECT and are here to help
Questions to Ask:_____________________________________________________________
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 10/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4472.