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Electroconvulsive therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy provides electrical stimulation to the brain while a patient is under anesthesia in an effort to affect the brain chemistry that influences mental health. It may require a varying number of treatments.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatment center in Northern Virginia

Profound relief from treatment-resistant mental illness is within reach through ECT.

Are you still seeking effective treatment for severe depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? Dominion Hospital's ECT program can be life-changing for those with intense, long-term mental health conditions.

Ready to take the first step toward healing?

If you are ready to find out more about our mental health services, our First Step counselors are available 24/7 to offer an immediate assessment of your situation. All calls are free and confidential.

If you are ready to find out more about our mental health services, our First Step counselors are available 24/7 to offer an immediate assessment of your situation. All calls are free and confidential.

Learn more about ECT

If you are considering ECT, it is important to understand how ECT works, as well as its risks and benefits.

ECT treatment

You will receive a psychiatric and medical evaluation, which includes a physical examination, blood tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG). Very few medical conditions prohibit the use of ECT. However, please consult with your cardiologist or primary care provider before receiving treatment to be sure ECT is right for you.

Under the guidance of a psychiatrist, anesthesiologist and nurse, you receive a short-acting general anesthetic and a muscle relaxant to ensure you are asleep. The procedure itself lasts only a few minutes, and you will typically be awake 10 to 20 minutes later. ECT is pain-free and you will awaken with no memory of the procedure. You will likely need at least a few courses of treatment to see the effects.

Benefits of ECT

The main benefit of ECT is quick relief from the symptoms of various mental illnesses. There are many other benefits as well, including:

  • Working for patients who have treatment-resistant depression.
  • Feeling better after just a few sessions, with the majority of our patients experiencing positive results within one or two treatments
  • Treating life-threatening conditions such as suicidality, catatonia or a refusal to eat

Side effects of ECT

Although this therapy is generally safe and low-risk, and our staff closely monitors your treatment, there are some risks associated with ECT. Over time, these side effects can subside or be treated with over-the-counter medicine.

Some of these typically short-term side effects of ECT include:

  • Amnesia
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Jaw pain
  • Muscle ache
  • Nausea

Conditions we treat with ECT

ECT is used as a method of treating those who have certain mental illnesses but have not been helped by other forms of treatment.

Conditions ECT can treat

Our use of advanced ECT methods and technologies allows for a gentler effect on memory than there was with older forms of ECT. This enables us to safely use ECT to treat many conditions, including:

  • Active suicidal behavior — planning suicide and possibly attempting to carry out that plan
  • Bipolar disorder — including acute and severe mania, delirious mania or rapid-cycling mania
  • Catatonia — an inability to move sometimes accompanied by prolonged stillness and not being able to speak
  • Compromised nutritional status — when the body does not get adequate necessary nutrients as a result of injury or disease
  • Major depressive disorder — especially when experiencing resistance to or less than optimal results with medication
  • Psychosis — can be caused by a mental or physical health condition, characterized by a disconnection from reality, including delusions and hallucinations
  • Schizoaffective disorder — acute depressive or manic symptoms occurring with psychosis, with little to no response to medication
  • Schizophrenia disorder — specifically catatonic schizophrenia or psychosis that resists treatment with medication

ECT for emergency medical care

ECT is also a valuable and effective first-line intervention in emergency situations. It can quickly help patients who may be actively suicidal, psychotic, nutritionally compromised or catatonic.

Discover more about ECT

Our Director of Medical Services, Shelley Coleman-Houff, talks about why ECT is no longer a "last resort" for some patients. Learn how ECT has changed and what mental health conditions can benefit from it.