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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital offers electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for patients diagnosed with severe depression and certain other mental disorders, including bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. ECT is most beneficial for treatment of severe symptoms, and when other types of therapies have failed.

Available on both an inpatient and outpatient basis, ECT remains the gold-standard and the most effective treatment for many psychiatric disorders. Advancements in ECT technologies and procedures over the years have made this treatment even safer and more tolerable for patients. ECT is administered by our specially trained team of psychiatrists, registered nurses and anesthesiologists, following the standards of Electroconvulsive Therapy Practice developed by the American Psychiatric Association.

How does ECT work?

Electroconvulsive therapy involves stimulating the brain with a short, controlled electrical current. This causes a mild brain seizure that can alter an individual’s brain chemistry by releasing chemicals in the brain and encouraging the brain cells to make new connections. ECT can significantly reduce or reverse symptoms of severe depression, depression with psychosis and other mood or psychotic symptoms when used appropriately.

What should I expect during an ECT treatment course?

ECT is generally started with a course of 6-12 treatments, three times a week for two to four weeks. Afterwards treatments become less frequent until they are spread to monthly treatments.

The whole treatment in total takes about 15 minutes. The ECT treatment itself is very short, lasting about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. Afterwards, you will go to the recovery area and will be discharged after about 30 minutes. You should always have a responsible adult to pick you up from each treatment. Driving or operating heavy machinery during the day of the treatment is prohibited.

How does ECT feel?

ECT is a painless procedure, performed while the patient is asleep under general anesthesia. Before the procedure, a muscle relaxant is given through IV to prevent extra movement of your muscles knows as convulsions and to minimize the risk of injury from these physical movements. Electric current is passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a mild seizure that lasts about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes.

What are the benefits of ECT?

ECT is considered the gold-standard and the most effective treatment available for many psychiatric disorders. It can provide significant and relatively quick relief from symptoms for patients suffering from severe forms of mental illness, or where multiple other treatments have failed.

Even though symptoms of depression or mental disorders can improve significantly, ECT is not a cure. Patients will need ongoing treatment to prevent a recurrence. Less frequent ECT may be used as maintenance therapy. However, most people will continue treatment with psychotherapy, psychological counseling, or medication for best results.

Are there any side effects?

After each treatment, patients typically return to their normal activities that same day. Mild and temporary side effects may occur. On the day of your ECT treatment, the most common side effects can include nausea, headache, fatigue, and confusion.

Will ECT affect my memory?

Slight memory loss may last minutes to hours. Some memories from immediately before or after the treatment may remain fuzzy. Long term memory problems with modern ECT are rare, since modern ECT uses significantly less energy than historical devices. Your interventional psychiatrist will be happy to discuss any concerns about memory, or other concerns, during the initial consultation and throughout the course of treatment.

Will other medical issues prevent me from having ECT?

Modern ECT has become significantly safer and more tolerable over the years, but it is still a procedure done under anesthesia. Our interventional psychiatrists will work with you and your primary care provider to make sure cardiovascular and pulmonary risks are minimized. Your interventional psychiatrist will carefully evaluate your medical history and discuss the risks and benefits of ECT for you during your consultation. In some cases, a consultation with specialists in other medical fields may be needed.

How is the success of this treatment monitored?

The Interventional Psychiatric Services (IPS) team will use several ways to monitor the improvements of your symptoms, including regular evaluation by the treating interventional psychiatrist, in addition to validated psychometric scales, and collaboration with your primary psychiatric provider.

Is ECT the right treatment plan for me?

To learn more about ECT treatment, please complete the Request for information form. Our IPS staff will contact you to explain our ECT referral and intake process. You must currently be under the care of a psychiatrist or psychiatric APRN to receive treatment.

How do I get ECT at Yale New Haven Hospital?

A referral from your psychiatrist or psychiatric APRN is required, after which you will be evaluated thoroughly by an interventional psychiatrist at IPS. Our team work collaboratively with your referring provider before and during your treatment. To get more information regarding the referral process, you can complete the Request form.

Is ECT covered by insurance?

ECT is almost universally accepted by insurance providers, including Medicare and Medicaid. Your patient navigator will confirm insurance coverage for you during the consultation process.