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Understanding Electroconvulsive TherapyLa terapia electroconvulsiva

Understanding Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is sometimes called shock therapy. This may sound painful, but ECT doesn't hurt. It's often the safest and best treatment for severe depression. It can treat other mental disorders as well.

Common Symptoms of Major Depression:

  • Feeling a deep sadness that doesn't go away

  • Losing all pleasure in life

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless

  • Feeling guilty

  • Sleeping more or less than normal

  • Eating more or less than normal

  • Having headaches or stomachaches, or other pains that don't go away

  • Feeling nervous, "empty," or worthless

  • Crying a great deal

  • Thinking or talking about suicide or death

What Is Electroconvulsive Therapy?

ECT is used to treat people who are very depressed. It's mainly used when other treatments, such as antidepressant medications, have failed. Often, it may relieve feelings of sadness and despair in just a few days.

How Does It Work?

Before an ECT treatment, you'll receive anesthesia to keep you pain-free. You'll also be given medication to quiet your muscles and control your heart rate. Your doctor then places electrodes on your head. You may have one above each temple (bilateral ECT). Or, you may have electrodes on one temple and on your forehead (unilateral ECT). An electric current passes through your brain for just a second. This causes a strong seizure, lasting less than a minute. Although you remain at rest, your brain goes through great changes.

What Are the Risks?

When done properly, ECT is quite safe. Right after the treatment, you may be confused. You may have a headache or stiff muscles. But these symptoms often go away quickly. A more serious and long-lasting side effect is memory loss. Most likely, you'll forget events that occur close to your treatments. Sometimes, you may forget larger blocks of time.

Looking to the Future

In most cases, ECT doesn't cure your symptoms. Instead, it improves them for a time. As a result, you may need a series of treatments. You may also take antidepressant medications to ease your symptoms. But with ongoing treatment, you'll likely have a full and healthy life.


The National Institute of Mental Health  866-615-6464  www.nimh.nih.gov

National Mental Health Association  800-969-6642  www.nmha.org

Date Last Reviewed: 2005-04-05T00:00:00-06:00

Date Last Modified: 2005-04-05T00:00:00-06:00



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