Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive Therapy at BIDMC

Electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT, is a medical treatment performed under general anesthesia to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including major depression and bipolar disorder.


Electroconvulsive Therapy at BIDMCDuring electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a specialized doctor uses a controlled electrical current to induce a brief seizure. Over time, the seizures produce chemical changes in your brain that reduce symptoms of major depression and other severe psychiatric conditions.

Your initial course of treatment, referred to as the acute phase, typically includes 2-3 treatments per week for a period of a few weeks, although the number of treatments varies from patient to patient. Depending on your needs, you may need weekly or monthly treatments following your initial course, referred to as the maintenance phase.

Our doctors will work closely with you to determine if you’re a good candidate for ECT and answer any questions you may have before moving forward with treatments.


Is ECT Right for Me?

Electroconvulsive therapy is a treatment option when medication and other forms of therapy have not improved your psychiatric condition. ECT is also an option if you can’t take medication.

If electroconvulsive therapy has been deemed appropriate for you, you will need to obtain a medical clearance for ECT within 30 days of the start of your treatment. Your medical clearance exam is typically completed by your primary care doctor and includes:

  • Your medical history and the results of your physical exam
  • Blood work
  • An EKG
  • A pregnancy test for age appropriate female patients
  • Any other tests or consults your doctor recommends to confirm that you are healthy enough to undergo ECT
  • A written statement that you are medically cleared/optimized for ECT treatments

A full copy of the required medical clearance exam can be found here. (Hyperlink to medical clearance work-up pdf)

If you do not qualify for ECT, you should discuss alternative treatment options with your doctor.


What Conditions Can ECT Treat?

Electroconvulsive therapy can be used to treat a number of symptoms related to the following conditions including:

  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Catatonia
  • Mania
  • Psychosis