What To Expect During Electroconvulsive Therapy

Here are some important things to know in advance of your ECT appointment at BIDMC.

Before Your Procedure

Because electroconvulsive therapy is performed under general anesthesia, you should not eat, drink, or smoke after midnight on the days of your treatments. Do not drink alcohol or use any illegal drugs over the course of the treatment.

On the day of your procedure, do not wear jewelry or contact lenses. You’ll receive an intravenous line (IV), so dress comfortably and opt for a t-shirt or tank top.

During the ECT treatment, you will receive medication through the IV that will put you to sleep for the duration of the treatment. Once asleep, you will receive a muscle relaxant to help minimize movement during the procedure and a bite block will be placed in your mouth to protect your teeth. An oxygen mask will be used to help you breathe properly and small, adhesive electrode pads will be placed on both your body and scalp which will allow your treatment team to monitor your vital signs and brain activity before, during and after the procedure.

Prior to receiving your first treatment, you will be provided with consent forms to review and sign. Electroconvulsive therapy is a voluntary treatment and you can withdraw this consent at any time.

During Your Procedure

After you’re placed under general anesthesia, a doctor will use a controlled electrical current to induce a brief grand mal seizure that lasts up to two minutes. Because you’ll be asleep, you won’t feel anything. Following the ECT procedure, you’ll be monitored for 30 minutes or as long as needed for you to be alert and oriented and steady on your feet. You’ll be discharged shortly after.

After Your Procedure

  • You must have an adult present to drive you home and remain with you for the next 6-8 hours.
  • You are not to drive over the treatment course and for two weeks after treatments end.

Following your electroconvulsive therapy treatment, you may experience one or more of the following side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Confusion and grogginess
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Muscle aches and soreness

These side effects are normal and should subside after a few days. If you experience any of these side effects, inform the treatment team and medications can be given to help prevent or lessen some of these symptoms.