ECT treatments usually begin by having an IV line started
and sensors for recording brain activity (EEG or electroencephelogram)
placed on the head. Other sensors are placed on the chest
for monitoring the heart and a cuff is wrapped around
the arm for blood pressure.
When everything is
connected and in order, a medication is injected through
the IV line that will cause the patient to sleep for
5 to 10 minutes. Once asleep, another medication is
given to relax the patient’s muscles. This medication
will prevent the patient’s muscles from moving
during the treatment and will reduce the possibility
of injury. This same medication also relaxes the muscles
that help a patient breathe, so oxygen will be provided
through a mask until the medication wears off and the
patient resumes breathing on his/her own.
Once the patient is completely asleep and the muscles
are well relaxed, the treatment is given. A brief electrical
charge is applied to electrodes that have been placed
on the scalp. This stimulates the brain and produces
a seizure, which lasts for about one minute.
During the seizure, the patient may experience an elevated
heart rate, the patient’s toes may twitch, fists
may clench or chest may heave. The patient’s body
will not convulse and he/she will not feel any pain.
When the treatment is completed, the patient will be
brought to the recovery area. Usually, patients will
wake up about 10 or 15 minutes later and in many cases
will be able to go home within 30 to 60 minutes. Once
the patient wakes, he/she may experience headache, nausea,
temporary confusion and muscle stiffness. These symptoms
typically ease in a matter of 20-60 minutes.
While some hospitals require an overnight stay for
this treatment, University Hospital treats patients
as both inpatients and outpatients. Each case is different,
and usually the amount of supportive care at home is
a major factor in the decision.