Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)



Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sends an electronic current through the brain. This current causes brief seizure activity. This causes changes in brain chemistry. ECT can reduce symptoms associated several mental health conditions.

The Brain
Color coded brain
During ECT, an electronic current is delivered to the brain.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Possible Complications

Your doctor will review potential problems like:

  • Cognitive impairment, such as problems with thinking and memory:
    • They usually go away after a couple of weeks
    • In some cases memory problems may last for several months
    • Occasionally thinking and memory problems will persist
  • Short-term changes in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Short-term abnormal heart rate
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches or soreness

Rare complications include:

  • Heart attack or stopping the heart
  • Long-lasting seizure
  • Death

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Having a history of heart problems, stroke, or high blood pressure
  • Pregnancy—this form of therapy may increase the risk of complications in the fetus
  • Not responding well to medication
  • Increased age



This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Therapy, Electroconvulsive; ECT)


Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance http://www.dbsalliance.org 

Mental Health America http://www.nmha.org 


Canadian Mental Health Association http://www.ontario.cmha.ca 

Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org 


Depression: How electroconvulsive therapy works. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/depression/treatment/how-electroconvulsive-therapy-works.html. Updated September 2012. Accessed May 6, 2016.

Electroconvulsive therapy. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/ect. Accessed May 6, 2016.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). El Camino Hospital website. Available at: http://www.elcaminohospital.org/Programs%5Fand%5FServices/Behavioral%5FHealth/Electroconvulsive%5FTherapy. Accessed May 6, 2016.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 21, 2016. Accessed May 6, 2016.

Kellner CH, Greenberg RM, Murrough JW, et al. ECT in treatment-resistant depression. Am J Psychiatry. 2012;169(12):1238-1244.

5/13/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Semkovska M, McLoughlin DM. Objective cognitive performance associated with electroconvulsive therapy for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biol Psychiatry. 2010;68(6):568-577.