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Electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure that causes a brief convulsion by passing an electric current through the brain. It is a very effective and safe treatment for depression.

ECT procedures are most often performed in a hospital operating or recovery room while the patient is asleep and under general anesthesia. The patient receives a muscle relaxant and is then put briefly to sleep to prevent them from feeling pain.

A small amount of electric current is then delivered to cause seizure activity in the brain for about 40 seconds. The patient will receive medicine to prevent the seizure from spreading throughout their body. As a result, there will be only slight movement of their hands or feet during the procedure.

ECT is usually given once every two to five days for a total of six to 12 sessions, but more sessions are sometimes needed in cases of severe depression. After a successful course of ECT, a patient will receive medication or less frequent ECT treatments to reduce the risk of another depression episode.

Our program

The Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Program at Zucker Hillside Hospital aims to successfully treat cases of severe depression with the latest and safest techniques in electroconvulsive therapy. Our program is among the oldest, most experienced and most active in the nation.

The ECT program at Zucker Hillside is also a national resource for teaching ECT to students and physicians at all professional levels and conducts research aimed at improving outcomes. Our compassionate and expert staff consists of ECT-credentialed psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, ACLS certified nurses and support staff.

ECT can be especially helpful for treating depression in patients who:

  • Are having delusions or other psychotic symptoms with their depression
  • Are pregnant and severely depressed
  • Are suicidal
  • Cannot take antidepressant drugs
  • Have not responded fully to antidepressant drugs

Less often, electroconvulsive therapy treatment is used for other conditions such as mania, catatonia and psychosis that do not improve enough with other treatments.


Electroconvulsive therapy has received some bad press, in part for its potential effects on memory. However, since the electroconvulsive therapy procedure was first introduced in the 1930s, the dose of electricity used has been decreased significantly. This has greatly reduced the side effects of this procedure, including permanent memory loss, which is much rarer now than it was in the past.

Though not very common, electroconvulsive therapy can still cause some side effects, including:

  • Confusion that lasts for a short period of time
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension) or high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle soreness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) or other heart problems

Some medical conditions put patients at greater risk for side effects from ECT. Discuss your medical conditions and any concerns with your doctor when deciding whether ECT is right for you.

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