Many people begin to notice an improvement in their symptoms after two or three treatments with electroconvulsive therapy. Full improvement may take longer. Response to antidepressant medications, in comparison, can take several weeks or more.
No one knows for certain how ECT helps treat severe depression and other mental illnesses. What is known, though, is that many chemical aspects of brain function are changed during and after seizure activity. These chemical changes may build upon one another, somehow reducing symptoms of severe depression or other mental illnesses. That's why ECT is most effective in people who receive a full course of multiple treatments.
Even after your symptoms improve, you'll still need ongoing treatment to prevent a recurrence. Known as maintenance therapy, that ongoing treatment doesn't have to be ECT, but it can be. More often, it includes antidepressants or other medications, or psychological counseling (psychotherapy).
Oct. 25, 2012
- Kellner C. Overview of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for adults. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Kellner C. Indications for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in unipolar depression and its efficacy. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Payne N, et al. Electroconvulsive therapy: Part I. A perspective on the evolution and current practice of ECT. Journal of Psychiatric Practice. 2009;15:346.
- Fact sheet: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Mental Health America. http://www.nmha.org/go/information/get-info/treatment/electroconvulsive-therapy-ect. Accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Sadock BJ, et al. Kaplan & Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Wolters Kluwer Health Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009. http://ovidsp.ovid.com/ovidweb.cgi?T=JS&CSC=Y&NEWS=N&PAGE=booktext&D=books2&AN=01412563/9th_Edition/5&XPATH=/OVIDBOOK%5b1%5d/METADATA%5b1%5d/TBY%5b1%5d/EDITORS%5b1%5d. Accessed Sept. 18, 2012.
- Brain stimulation therapies. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/brain-stimulation-therapies/brain-stimulation-therapies.shtml. Accessed Sept. 18, 2012.
- Kellner C. Technique for performing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/complete-index.shtml. Accessed Sept. 19, 2012.
- Kung S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 30, 2012.
- Ujkaj M, et al. Safety and efficacy of electroconvulsive therapy for the treatment of agitation and aggression in patients with dementia. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2012;20:61.