Far be it from me –

Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) – Seizure in the Central Nervous System

Electro Convulsive Therapy or ECT is the brain child of two Italian neuropsychiatrists, Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini.

In 1938 Dr Cerletti became interested in the fact that pigs  were electro shocked through the temples to prepare them for slaughter.  The pigs were rendered unconscious but did not die.  They could survive the shock if allowed to recover.

Dr Cerletti decided to try it on his patients.  He found obsessive and difficult patients became meek and manageable after Electro Convulsive Therapy.

Back in l994 I was neither obsessive nor difficult.  I was trying my best to recover from an acute psychotic breakdown which came about after years of intolerable stress.  I was in a psychiatric unit and sectioned and so when the psychiatrist decided to treat me with ECT I had no say in the matter.

I had 6 treatments of ECT – two treatments a week, for three weeks.   Prior to the first treatment  I was weighed and had an Electroencephalogram (EEG) to find out if there were any problems with my brain.  Things were normal but a cerebral insult was found.  I was not told this at the time but discovered it some years later when I read my medical notes.    I asked the same psychiatrist if the insult was the result of concussion after I’d been knocked to the ground by my first, abusive husband, but the psychiatrist said it was more likely caused by stress, or by the medication I’d taken.  (A cerebral insult is a kind of lesion which heals in time.  It’s no longer in my brain as a subsequent MRI scan confirmed)

On six occasions I was woken early and taken to another ward where a needle was put into the back of my hand and a short acting anaesthetic and muscle relaxant were administered.  The muscle relaxant is to prevent a peripheral seizure that could carry the risk of bodily injury.  The goal of the ECT is to produce a seizure in the central nervous system.

I had to lie down on a table and electrodes were placed on either side of my head – bi lateral ECT.  These electrodes deliver an electrical stimulus.  The stimulus levels recommended for ECT are in excess of an individual’s seizure threshold.  For bi lateral ECT this is between one and one and a half times the seizure threshold.  The electrical stimulus is 800 milliamps and lasts between one and six seconds.

The headaches I suffered afterwards were relentless and the worst I’d ever experienced.  In every case of ECT there is brain damage.

Research is ongoing to find out how  ECT works.  Researchers from the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee have recently carried out research using a small sample and concluded that following ECT  there is a reduction in the connections in an area of the brain previously linked to both depression and cognitive function.  But the research did not report on what happened to patients not given ECT

I will reluctantly agree that I did get better after the ECT and did return to reality.  Of course there can be spontaneous recovery from psychosis.  If the anti psychotic medication Olanzapine/Zyprexa had been available at that time then I am sure I could have avoided the  ECT.  I was to discover later that Olanzapine was very effective.

Do I resent having been forced to have ECT?  Yes.  Meditation and Psychotherapy  also change the brain and neither hurts.

19 responses to “Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) – Seizure in the Central Nervous System

  1. I Would like to know if there any long term effects of having E.C.T ? ….As I do be leave, I do have side effects. It is almost 30 years since I had it, and have had pain in my head, neck and face, every since.


    • judithhaire says:

      I am not able to answer this and I suggest you ask a doctor…..I know memory loss can be a side effect
      Perhaps you will let me know what the doctor said?
      Thanks for the comment.


      • I have asked the doctor, many of them but know one will say. Yes My Memory, short term memory is bad. All they have done for all these years is pain medication. I think I have just been very unlucky with the Doctors I have had.
        Thank you Judith.
        I enjoy your tweets.


      • judithhaire says:

        I am sorry about this. You could go to NHS direct and send in an email enquiry. Thanks a lot for your comment and keep tweeting too take care
        kind regards Judith


    • WTM says:

      I had 7 ECT treatments in 2007 which did nothing to alleviate my depression, chronic non-restorative sleep or (“normal” type) frequent headaches (I stopped them before 12 because I could tell I was being damaged). It was suggested that all “might” be improved by ECT. In fact, within a few months I began having debilitating “migraine” type headaches that became near continuous to this day. After a year they morphed into less “migraine” symptomatic but still constant Chronic Daily Headache. I had headaches more often than a normal person but they were typical headaches – they would come on but eventually subside plus I had plenty of days with pretty much NO headache. But now, along with various memory issues & other adverse cognitive difficulties I am more regularly impaired than I ever was PRIOR to ECT. No doctors of any kind have had any answers or solutions for this. Difficult to prove the damage & (apparently) either not accepted or understood by the medical community. It may work for some people but in my experience can also badly damage a person – seemingly permanently – so it should NOT be undertaken lightly if at all.


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  6. zena marshall says:

    I had 12 sessions of ECT over 6 weeks which I was made to have de to being on a section but I never had any after effects from it not even drowsy when they woke me up, but i would be interested to try and find out what the long term damage this could of caused could be . This was really interesting reading thanks .


    • judithhaire says:

      Hi Zena thanks for the commment. You were sectioned too I am sorry you were made to have 12 sessions of ECT. As far as I know there is brain damage in every case of ECT but you could ask your GP, or the British Medical Association. I want to find out more too
      kind regards judith


  7. milwardstory says:

    Thanks for your blog post on this subject.

    I had six sessions of ECT in 1994. I was very ill and medication didn’t seem to be working. I remember feeling very tired afterwards. I think it helped me, but I can’t prove it. Certainly, no specific follow up of the ECT was given to me to check for brain damage or other issues. I know that my short term memory became weaker.

    Reading your (really interesting) account I now feel concerned about my situation. I’m going to research this more, but a first step may be to see my GP.



    • judithhaire says:

      Thank you for reading the post and for your comment – I’ve had no change to my memory either short term or long term – and it’s only recently that I’ve found out that brain damage does result in every case. I hope you get on okay seeing your GP. I am continuing to research ECT as well
      thanks again


  8. Pip says:

    Hi and thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking about ECT a lot lately, and about requesting it in the future. Over the years I’ve tried paroxetine, citalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline and now venlafaxine. None of them work, and my current depressive episode has been in place for two years now. I’m just not recovering this time.

    If it just works enough to lift me so that I can get stuck into some psychological and behavioural therapy – that would be something.

    BTW, if my email rings a bell, it’s because I contributed to your book about suicide.

    Pip xxx


    • judithhaire says:

      Hello Pip yes I thought as much, thank you again for contributing, work is in progress and on track! Thank you for your comment. I am so sorry you’re not recovering this time. I send support and best wishes, speak soon Judith xxx


  9. malrich2 says:

    read my blog if you want to know more about the long lasting effects of ECT malrich2


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