Institute of Psychiatry

institute of psychiatry

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression affects 15 million American adults each year, an estimated five to eight percent of the adult population.

Most patients treated with antidepressants for depression do well.  Unfortunately, there is a significant minority of people, who will either fail to respond or who will have only a temporary or partial response. Some patients who have been treated with multiple anti-depressants are still severely depressed.

Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, has been an effective procedure for many treatment-resistant mood disorder patients.  At MUSC, clinicians have access to the latest equipment and are using the most effective evidence-based treatments. This not only improves the efficacy; these reduce some of the undesirable side effects associated with classic ECT, such as short-term memory loss or headaches.

Modern ECT is considerably different than the primitive “shock treatments” depicted in movies like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or “Girl, Interrupted.”  There are no paddles or violent convulsions.  Patients are under anesthesia.  A muscle relaxant called succinylcholine is administered to completely relax muscles.  Soft electrode patches are placed on the face and temple.  The new ultra-brief pulse unilateral ECT sends a series of low-voltage currents, and only to one side of the brain.  The procedure lasts for a few minutes.  Patients are awakened and are generally able to go home within an hour.

Patients typically receive about seven treatments spaced out over a period of two to three weeks.  Some patients return for maintenance treatments.  These might be one per week, or one per month or as infrequent as once per year.

All patients respond differently.  Yet on average, 50 percent of even severely depressed patients show improvement.


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