Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Bipolar Disorder ECT

Severe bipolar disorder that does not respond to medication may benefit from electroconvulsive therapy, which is also called ECT or shock therapy. During this procedure, electrodes are placed on the patient's head, and an instrument is programmed to deliver a short burst of electricity to the brain. ECT triggers a short seizure, lasting about one minute.

ECT is performed under a brief period of general anesthesia, in order to prevent pain and to avoid prolonged seizures. ECT is usually given 3 times a week for 2 to 4 weeks. ECT is effective in about 75 percent of patients who complete the full course of treatment.

The most common side effect of ECT is a period of mild confusion after treatments, which may last for several minutes to a few hours. The confusion may last longer after each treatment. Side effects of treatment and anesthesia include nausea, vomiting, jaw pain, muscle aches or headache.

This procedure can also cause temporary memory loss during treatments. Memory loss may persist for a couple of months after treatment, but usually resolves. Permanent memory loss is unusual.

Continue to Bipolar Disorder Pregnancy

Last Updated: Dec 2, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Bipolar Disorder References
  1. Geddes J. Bipolar disorder. Clin Evid. 2005 Jun;(13):1158-81. [16135292]
  2. Ghaemi SN, Ko JY, Goodwin FK. The bipolar spectrum and the antidepressant view of the world. J Psychiatr Pract. 2001 Sep;7(5):287-97. [15990539]
  3. Tondo L, Baldessarini RJ, Hennen J, et al: Lithium treatment and risk of suicidal behavior in bipolar disorder patients. J Clin Psychiatry 1998 Aug; 59(8): 405-14. [9721820]
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