Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Referral Information: 410-938-3485

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure in which electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses. It has been proven as a safe and highly effective treatment for patients suffering from mood disorders, particularly major depression, as well as other behavioral conditions, who have not responded to medication, psychotherapy, or other behavioral interventions.

Electroconvulsive Therapy at Sheppard Pratt Health System

Sheppard Pratt Health System has more than 30 years of experience in the delivery of ECT services and offers this treatment in accordance with the American Psychiatric Association's standards. ECT is administered on either an inpatient or outpatient basis by specially credentialed psychiatrists in our ECT suite on our Towson campus. In order to receive ECT treatment at Sheppard Pratt Health System, a referral from a psychiatrist is required. To refer a patient for ECT treatment or evaluation, please call us at 410-938-3485.

Preparing for the Procedure

Depending on the age and health status of the patient, certain pre-ECT testing may be required. If necessary, arrangements will be made for an electrocardiogram (EKG) and blood work. Any other specific recommendations regarding patient medications and test results will be discussed with the referring physician.

The Procedure

Because the procedure requires the use of anesthesia, patients are required to fast for six hours before each treatment. ECT is conducted in a specially-equipped treatment room and involves the administration of general anesthesia, muscle relaxants, and/or other medications through an intravenous line. This assures that the treatment is painless and that, upon waking, there is no memory or recollection of the procedure.

A specially-trained psychiatrist conducts the ECT procedure. Throughout the procedure, the patient wears monitoring sensors on the head, chest, and finger, which allow for the painless monitoring of brain waves, blood pressure, heartbeat, and oxygen saturation during the procedure. A soft, protective mouthpiece is placed in the patient’s mouth to prevent any dental complications.

Once the patient is asleep, a small, carefully controlled amount of electricity is passed between two electrodes on the patient’s head. When the electrical current is passed, a generalized seizure, visually lasting about one minute or less, is produced in the brain. During this time, the patient is given oxygen to assist in breathing, and the muscle relaxant that was previously administered ensures that the muscular contractions associated with the seizure are mild.

Once the procedure is completed and the anesthesia has worn off, the patient awakens and is transported to the recovery room for observation before they are able to leave. The entire procedure and recovery process take approximately 45 minutes.

The number of treatments recommended is based on the individual patient's need and response to the treatment. Many patients receive a total of six to twelve treatments per episode of care.

Common Side Effects

ECT is a safe medical procedure when administered according to sound medical practice and in adherence to established guidelines. As with all forms of medical treatment, some patients may experience some side effects. These may include headache, muscle soreness, nausea, temporary irregularities in heart rate, confusion and memory problems, and, in rare instances, there may be damage to fragile teeth.

Treatment Coverage

ECT is routinely covered by third party payors, including Medicare, Medical Assistance, and private payors. Our Medical Department will work with the patient to verify third party coverage and to explain any patient liability.

Our Clinicians:

Carlos Azcarate, M.D.

Dennis Kutzer, M.D.

Jack Vaeth, M.D.

Additional Information for Families:

ECT Information for Patients and Families

Additional Information for Physicians:

ECT Information for Referring Psychiatrists

Outpatient ECT Referral Form

Outpatient Insurance Form