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Electroconvulsive Therapy Program

Safety and Other Issues


Any medical procedure involving anesthesia carries some risks. The potential risks include cardiac or respiratory arrest. The risk of respiratory or cardiac arrest resulting in death during ECT is negligible (less than 1 in 10,000 cases). This risk is typically regarded as being similar to the risks of having an outpatient surgical procedure under anesthesia. ECT treatments are extremely safe and severe medical complications are rare. You will be monitored constantly during the procedure by a team of medical professionals in the event of a complication.


Because depression is often a relapsing illness, patients may experience repeated episodes of depression even if they respond very well to ECT. Patients often have failed numerous medications prior to ECT, and their illness may be significantly resistant medications. When repeated episodes of depression occur, your doctors may recommend a taper of ECT over a course of several weeks to months. Modern clinical practice and recent research have found that Maintenance ECT is often very effective in keeping patients well. A common taper of ECT is treatments once a week for a month, once every 2 weeks for two months, once every 3 weeks for two months, and once every month for two-four months. Although there is a considerable commitment by patients and families to undergo Maintenance ECT, the avoidance of lengthy re-hospitalizations and undergoing more medication trials is often worth any inconveniences.


ECT is an extremely effective treatment, but ECT treatment is only one component of a complete treatment regimen. After your ECT course, medications will likely be required as maintenance therapy to prevent a return of your illness. ECT also can not resolve other problems associated with personal relationships or how an individual copes with the stressors of life. Other interventions such as psychotherapy may be recommended. Hopefully, because you are being relieved of the severe symptoms of your illness, you will be able to participate more effectively with other therapies that are recommended.