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What Are the Most Common Electroconvulsive Therapy Side Effects?

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  • Written By: Clara Kedrek
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a psychiatric treatment that can cause a number of different side effects. Many patients report some degree of temporary memory loss, and others suffer from headaches or confusion after the treatment is finished. Some patients can develop more severe side effects including bone fractures or pneumonia. Although ECT is generally considered to be a fairly safe procedure, patients with heart disease and underlying neurologic conditions should be fully evaluated before receiving this treatment, as they are at increased risk for developing serious side effects.

One of the most common electroconvulsive therapy side effects reported by patients is memory loss. One type of memory loss is termed retrograde amnesia, and these patients have trouble remembering events that occurred over a certain period of time in the past. Other patients report problems remembering things that happen after the treatment, a problem called anterograde amnesia. Typically the memory loss is not severe, and patients are able to remember important details about themselves and their lives, losing only memories about events or facts that didn’t involve them on a personal level. Patients typically regain the ability to fully remember events in weeks to months after the therapy occurred.

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Neurologic problems other than memory loss can also be seen as electroconvulsive therapy side effects. Many patients report having a mild headache after the therapy is completed. Other patients appear to be confused or disoriented for minutes to hours after the procedure.

Some other minor electroconvulsive therapy side effects can affect patients for a short period after the treatment finishes. Feeling nauseated, and even vomiting, is a common adverse effect. If patients are not fully protected by a dental bite guard, they might bite their tongue during the administration of the electroconvulsive therapy, resulting in pain and irritation after the procedure.

Other electroconvulsive therapy side effects are rarer, but can be serious. Patients with osteoporosis who are not secured sufficiently during the procedure could fracture a bone from the shock administration. Occasionally patients can aspirate the contents of the stomach as a result of having an altered level of consciousness during the procedure. This could result in pneumonia, an infection of the lung.

Certain patients are not good candidates for ECT due to their increased risk for electroconvulsive therapy side effects. Patients with heart diseases including severe heart valve problems, known coronary artery disease, and significant heart failure are at an increased risk for having a heart attack during the procedure, so electroconvulsive therapy is typically not recommended for these patients. If a patient has a known neurological condition such as a brain tumor or a recent stroke, he or she should be evaluated by a specialist before undergoing ECT in order to prevent complications.

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anon942757
Post 4

I have suffered from depression for most of my adult life. I cycled in and out, eventually leading to many failed medicine trials and multiple hospitalizations. I finally realized - on my own - that ECT may be the only way to save my life which I believed was truly hopeless.

My doctor admitted me to a very good psych hospital (I was lucky to live close to one of the best) where I was evaluated and they started ECT, unilateral with ultrabrief pulse - a very conservative approach. I was discharged after treatment five, and besides a few minor headaches, I've been fine. I just had treatment seven. I have zero memory/cognitive problems.

The treatments are slowly helping me to regain the

trust I have in my own decisions and I feel ready to rejoin the world of so-called sane people. I feel I'll need to keep repeating this story as I keep seeing nightmare stories. I would suggest they aren't true, but I do want others to know that some people have very positive results. Cheers!
Mangokipper
Post 3

ECT has totally wrecked my life. I had 169 shocks which have wiped my memory and even five years after my last treatment, I know that tomorrow, today will be gone. Yeah, it probably saved my life, but now I'm living a half life, constantly reminded of what I am unable to do as my memory and cognitive function are so impaired. Getting a job is impossible. I wish that I'd never had it.

anon290370
Post 2

I have major depression which does not seem to abate using anti-depressants. So my doctor recommended ECT. Once I was almost smothered by an anesthesiologist who should never be allowed to practice again. I was conscious, but paralyzed and unable to signal them. I heard one of the nurses say, "Oh my God! I thought she almost coded."

Now months later I have refused any more "treatments." I suffer from chronic headaches and not even my neurologist can figure out why.

anon234375
Post 1

This article is bull! There are zero long term studies, no evidence of patients who have used ECT and have been studied, nor any empirical documentation to show that ECT is/has been effective.

No, some psychiatrist would rather listen to the "muli-billion dollar a year psychopharmaceutical industry" to earn the big dollars. Contrary, ECT has been shown to do harm to your brain. The opposite is true. If you want to suffer a host of memory problems, and potential heart problems later, then do ECT! It's well known that ECT has been a money maker for many in the field.

Read "The Heart Of Psychotherapy", by Dr. George Weinberg and "Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health", by Dr. William Glasser. Both doctors prove that psychiatry can be dangerous and many psychiatrists will push you into ECT.

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