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.

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 possible problems such as:

  • Problems with thinking and memory—most go away in a couple of weeks, but for some, these may last for many months
  • Short-term changes in your heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches or soreness


  • Heart attack or cardiac arrest
  • Long-lasting seizure
  • Death

Your chances of having problems is higher for:

  • A history of heart problems, stroke , or high blood pressure
  • Pregnancy—may increase the risk of problems for the baby
  • Taking medicines that haven't helped you
  • 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)


American Psychiatric Association https://www.psychiatry.org 

Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net 


Canadian Mental Health Association https://cmha.ca 

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


Electroconvulsive therapy. El Camino Hospital website. Available at: http://www.elcaminohospital.org/Programs%5Fand%5FServices/Behavioral%5FHealth/Electroconvulsive%5FTherapy. Accessed September 4, 2018.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/how-electroconvulsive-therapy-works. Updated May 22, 2017. Accessed September 4, 2018.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/ect. Accessed September 4, 2018.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T361082/Electroconvulsive-therapy-ECT-for-depression  . Updated August 23, 2018. Accessed September 4, 2018.

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 Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T361082/Electroconvulsive-therapy-ECT-for-depression  : 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.