Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a non-drug treatment for bipolar disease and other mental disorders, such as severe depression. It is commonly called shock therapy. ECT has received bad press since it was introduced in the 1930s. But, over the years it has been refined, and is now considered a very safe treatment.
Research suggests ECT may be particularly beneficial for:
In a review of studies, about 80% of ECT-treated patients experienced improvement, and for some, it is the only treatment that works.
The Procedure. ECT is performed on an outpatient basis and does not require hospitalization. In general, the ECT procedure is performed as follows:
Side Effects. Side effects of ECT may include temporary confusion, memory lapses, headache, nausea, muscle soreness, and heart disturbances. Taking the drug naloxone immediately before ECT may help reduce its effects on concentration and some (but not all) forms of memory impairment. Concerns about permanent memory loss appear to be unfounded.
Biologic Effects of ECT on Bipolar Disorder. The precise way that ECT benefits patients with bipolar disorder is not clear. ECT may help by:
Some studies are finding that maintenance electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be helpful for patients who do not respond to medications. In one study of patients with bipolar disorder, those who had intractable recurrent episodes received monthly ECT treatments for more than a year and a half. Without ECT, those patients spent an average of almost half a year in the hospital, suffering at least three episodes annually. After ECT, all the rapid cyclers achieved full or partial remission.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is also being studied for unipolar and bipolar depression. Unlike ECT, this procedure does not appear to cause seizures, memory lapses, or impaired thinking. The only common side effect is a mild headache.
ACOG Committee on Practice Bulletins--Obstetrics. ACOG Practice Bulletin: Clinical management guidelines for obstetrician-gynecologists number 92, April 2008 (replaces practice bulletin number 87, November 2007). Use of psychiatric medications during pregnancy and lactation. Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Apr;111(4):1001-20.
Benazzi F. Bipolar disorder -- focus on bipolar II disorder and mixed depression. Lancet. 2007 Mar 17;369(9565):935-45.
Frans EM, Sandin S, Reichenberg A, Lichtenstein P, Langström N, Hultman CM. Advancing paternal age and bipolar disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Sep;65(9):1034-40.
Geller B, Tillman R, Bolhofner K, Zimerman B. Child bipolar I disorder: prospective continuity with adult bipolar I disorder; characteristics of second and third episodes; predictors of 8-year outcome. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Oct;65(10):1125-33.
Gentile S. Extrapyramidal adverse events associated with atypical antipsychotic treatment of bipolar disorder. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2007 Feb;27(1):35-45.
Jarema M. Atypical antipsychotics in the treatment of mood disorders. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2007 Jan;20(1):23-9.
McClellan J, Kowatch R, Findling RL; Work Group on Quality Issues. Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with bipolar disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007 Jan;46(1):107-25.
Merikangas KR, Akiskal HS, Angst J, et al. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of bipolar spectrum disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 May;64(5):543-52.
Miklowitz DJ, Otto MW, Frank E, et al. Psychosocial treatments for bipolar depression: a 1-year randomized trial from the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Apr;64(4):419-26.
Montgomery P, Richardson AJ. Omega-3 fatty acids for bipolar disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Apr 16;(2):CD005169.
Moreno C, Laje G, Blanco C, Jiang H, Schmidt AB, Olfson M. National trends in the outpatient diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in youth. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Sep;64(9):1032-9.
Morriss RK, Faizal MA, Jones AP, Williamson PR, Bolton C, McCarthy JP. Interventions for helping people recognise early signs of recurrence in bipolar disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jan 24;(1):CD004854.
Sachs GS, Nierenberg AA, Calabrese JR, et al. Effectiveness of adjunctive antidepressant treatment for bipolar depression. N Engl J Med. 2007 Apr 26;356(17):1711-22. Epub 2007 Mar 28.
Scherk H, Pajonk FG, Leucht S. Second-generation antipsychotic agents in the treatment of acute mania: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Apr;64(4):442-55.
Smith LA, Cornelius V, Warnock A, Bell A, Young AH. Effectiveness of mood stabilizers and antipsychotics in the maintenance phase of bipolar disorder: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Bipolar Disord. 2007 Jun;9(4):394-412.
© 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885