Before having the first ECT treatment, a patient will need a full evaluation, which usually includes:
- Medical history
- Complete physical exam
- Psychiatric assessment
- Basic blood tests
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) to check heart health
These exams help to make sure that the general anesthesia will be safe for you and won’t have any adverse side effects that prevent the procedure from working safely. It is the same medical clearance required for outpatient surgical procedures. This ensures that the overall process is safe for each individual and can be a good alternative to other forms of therapy or medications from a procedure protocol standpoint.
Before the procedure begins, the patient has an IV inserted with general anesthesia to put them to sleep. Once asleep, a direct electric current is sent to the brain in order to stimulate the area where the depression or mood disorder occurs.
The goal is to stimulate this area where the chemical blockage is occurring as many experts believe most mental health conditions are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Being able to target the source directly allows for progress in the areas that medication and other alternatives can’t reach.
The electric current triggers a brief motor seizure that lasts just under a minute. The patient is under anesthesia for only 5-10 minutes total. After they wake up, they are monitored in a recovery room to make sure they are safe, comfortable, and healthy before they go home.
ECT treatments are generally given three times weekly for three to four weeks. Most people require 6 to 12 treatments to see the desired results, but some cases can require up to 20 or more based on the level of severity.
Results from ECT treatments happen quickly. Roughly 80% of patients experience significant symptom relief, but unfortunately, the benefits of ECT don’t last for many patients. About half of all patients who receive ECT treatments experience a relapse of their depression or mental health symptoms within a year. For this reason, doctors often recommend maintenance ECT usually in combination with antidepressant drug therapy. However, your physician will help you determine your customized treatment plan based on your unique needs.