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Senior Asian man receiving medical check up or health condition interview from a doctor in a hospital room.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive Therapy, or ECT, is one method of treating acute and persistent mental illness.

Program overview

During an ECT treatment, patients undergo general anesthesia, and while asleep, patients receive an electrical stimulus to their scalp which conducts to the brain. This electric stimulation helps patients experience resolution of, or a decrease in, symptoms of their illness.

The treatment process

When patients arrive at Hennepin Healthcare they go directly to the ECT Suite. There, they change into hospital-provided scrubs and have their blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and oxygen levels checked. Next, patients are escorted to the PACU. Nurses in the PACU apply electrodes to monitor patients’ blood pressure, pulse, temperature, heart rate, and oxygen levels. Patients are given medication through an IV to help them sleep and to relax their muscles. After a patient falls asleep, the psychiatrist performing the treatment applies a slight amount of electricity to the patient’s temples.

This electricity causes a brief seizure that usually lasts less than one minute. Patients wake up gradually while their vital signs continue to be monitored. When they are alert, patients are escorted back to the ECT Suite for further recovery until they are ready for discharge.

Preparing for ECT

Before receiving their first ECT treatment, patients discuss the process with their doctor and sign a consent form, if they have not already done so. Patients have several things they need to do before receiving a treatment. They must not eat or drink anything for a period beginning at midnight the night before their ECT treatment and ending after the procedure has been completed. Doctors may order certain medications to be taken at home with a small sip of water the morning of an ECT treatment. Patients need to go to the bathroom before the treatment; they must also remove dentures, contact lenses, jewelry,
and other metal objects before leaving the ECT Suite to go to the PACU.

Preparing for ECT

Before receiving their first ECT treatment, patients discuss the process with their doctor and sign a consent form, if they have not already done so. Patients have several things they need to do before receiving a treatment. They must not eat or drink anything for a period beginning at midnight the night before their ECT treatment and ending after the procedure has been completed. Doctors may order certain medications to be taken at home with a small sip of water the morning of an ECT treatment. Patients need to go to the bathroom before the treatment; they must also remove dentures, contact lenses, jewelry,
and other metal objects before leaving the ECT Suite to go to the PACU.

Where does the treatment occur?

Patients are assessed and prepared in the Hennepin Healthcare ECT Suite, after which they are transported to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). A rotating staff of Psychiatrists perform the ECT treatments in the PACU. Patients recover after treatment in two stages: first in the PACU, then back in the ECT Suite, where they wait until they have recovered sufficiently to be discharged.

Possible side effects

Headaches, nausea, dry mouth, and sore muscles are among the possible side effects of ECT. These side effects can be treated using appropriate medications as prescribed by a doctor. Temporary memory loss and confusion may also occur after ECT. These side effects generally disappear within a few hours after finishing the treatment.

Restrictions after ECT

Patients must not drive or operate machinery for the rest of the day because they will be somewhat tired and disoriented. Each patient needs to have a responsible adult pick them up from ECT Suite and transport them home. It is strongly recommended patients not return to work and refrain from drinking any alcoholic beverages the day of treatment.

Further care

Patients receiving outpatient ECT treatments will be followed in the ECT Clinic — as well as continuing with their regular providers. These ECT Clinic appointments are an opportunity for the patient and their ECT doctor to discuss how the treatment is going, ask questions, and discuss whether further treatments would be beneficial for them.

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