Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an FDA-approved treatment for depression where a gentle electric current is sent through your brain, causing a surge of electrical activity. ECT can be beneficial in the treatment of treatment-resistant depression, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder when other treatment options have been ineffective. Due to its relative safety compared to some medications, it is often a treatment that is safe to use for pregnant patients with severe depression or other mental health issues.
The gentle electrical stimulation during treatment is thought to reset some of the pathways in your brain that are causing severe psychiatric symptoms. ECT is done under anesthesia, so patients are comfortably asleep during the short procedure.
Patients with severe psychiatric illnesses are at high risk for suicide or suicide attempts, and the risk of death or serious injury is substantially higher than for the general population. According to research, patients who expressed suicidal intent saw a marked and rapid improvement of symptoms with ECT treatment.
ECT may be recommended for use in cases where the patient has a history of severe, long-lasting depression, mania, psychosis, or a movement disorder called catatonia (a state of frozen shock or abnormal movements).
Depression is linked to altered messaging between brain cells, which are carried out by chemicals called neurotransmitters. For example, some neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, may be lower in patients with depression, causing limitations in essential functions such as concentration, motivation, and pleasure.
The electrical stimulation received by the brain during ECT has anti-depressive effects that can help alleviate symptoms and bring about changes in these functions.