ECT is a safe treatment. It is endorsed by the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the US Surgeon General.
Arguably more important than those endorsements is the fact that roughly 100,000 patients are treated with ECT every year in the United States. Those thousands of patients experience ECT without complications and can find relief from their severe depression.
ECT treatments are closely monitored by professionals while the patient is under anesthesia, and each step of the process is controlled in a safe and clean hospital environment.
Immediately after ECT treatments, patients may experience common side effects such as:
- Dizziness and imbalance
Most patients will be drowsy and feel “out of it” after their ECT appointment. Because patients often experience dizziness and are at risk of falling, they are carefully monitored before they go home. These side effects are common enough that it is actually required for patients to arrange a ride home because they should not drive after treatment. However, after taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen for any headaches and getting some rest, patients should be fine to return to their normal activities the next day after their appointment.
There are small thinking and memory-related side effects that are common with the procedure as well. Patients may experience slight memory difficulty and distorted thinking during the treatment period because these currents are directly targeting the brain. However, memory issues almost always go away after treatment. Long-term memory loss is significantly less common. Also, ECT causes far fewer memory issues than it did in previous decades. For most patients, a small degree of temporary memory difficulty is a reasonable side effect to tolerate given the likelihood of substantial improvement in depressive symptoms.