Side Effects Of Electroconvulsive Therapy & Remedies

Side effects of electroconvulsive therapy which are of main concern are the brain related side effects.

Common Side Effects Which You Might Encounter

The common side effects of electroconvulsive therapy include:

Headache - You can have mild to moderate headache after the session and it can last from few minutes to hours.

Confusion - You can remain confused for few minutes after the session is over. You will overcome it after few minutes.

Delirium - It lasts for few minutes only when the patient is recovering from anesthesia.It is more pronounced after the initial treatment sessions and in those patients who have other neurological disorder as well or in those patients who undergo bilateral ECT. Patient recovery varies from few minutes to days and few weeks at the maximum in minority of patients.

High Confusion - May be seen in about 10% of the patients and the condition lasts for about 30 minutes after the seizures.

Benzodiazepines and barbiturates can be used for the treatment of marked confusion.

Memory Impairment – the most concerned adverse effect of ECT is the memory impairment. Around 75% of all the patients who undergo ECT say that memory loss is the most troubling side effect. During the course of treatment memory impairment does occur but the good thing is that it is not a permanent damage. After 6 months of the treatment all patients return to their normal thinking levels.

However, a small percentage of the patients may develop persistent memory problems. An example of memory loss can be that a patient might not remember what happened when he went for hospital admission and ECT.

The extent to which the memory is affected during the treatment and the time it takes to come back to normal depends on the magnitude of electrical current used during treatment. Moreover, those patients who do not show much improvement with ECT complain more of memory loss.

Can Side Effect Of Electroconvulsive Therapy Cause Permanent Damage To Your Brain?

The good news is this although ECT causes effects on the memory there is no evidence of brain damage caused due to electroconvulsive therapy. Possibility of brain damage due to ECT was a huge concern and a number of research studies were conducted using various brain imaging techniques to determine whether there was any evidence of brain damage.

Luckily, all the studies showed that there is no permanent brain damage as a result of ECT. There is a common agreement between the epilepsy experts and neurologists that the seizures which have duration less than thirty minutes are not associated with permanent damage to the brain.

More Side Effects Of Electroconvulsive Therapy Which You Might Encounter

Fractures- used to occur in the olden days but they should not occur these days. Fractures of the vertebrae or long bones can be avoided by the use of proper muscle relaxants during the procedure.

Backache And Tooth Injury - Due the contraction of the muscles during the procedure, you may experience pain in the back. Someone may get a tooth broken as well due to the contractions. Necessary precautionary measures for e.g. use of mouth piece, should be taken.

Pain In The Muscles Or Muscle Soreness - You may experience muscle soreness after the first few sessions of ECT. This is due to the effect of succinylcholine which causes depolarization of the muscle.

Nausea, vomiting and headache may be experienced in minority of patients after undergoing electroconvulsive therapy.

Nausea and vomiting can be cured by taking anti-vomiting medicine as needed. Commonly used anti vomiting medicines are Tab Gravinate (dimenhydrinate) 50mg, Tab Maxolon (metoclopramide) 10mg and Tab Motilium (domeperidone) 10mg. Anyone of the these can be taken.

However if nausea or vomiting persists it is better to see your doctor.

Remedies For The Side Effects Of Electroconvulsive Therapy


Simple headaches which occur as a side effect of electroconvulsive therapy can be treated by the use of NSAIDS (Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) for e.g acetaminophen (comes under brand name Tylenol, check brand name in your country). It may be given when the patient is recovering from the effects of ECT.

Ibuprofen is also a pain killer (NSAIDS) and helps in post ECT headaches.

Pretreatment with Ibuprofen decreases post ECT headaches

Take 600mg of ibuprofen 90 minutes before the ECT session and it will decrease the frequency and the severity of the post ECT headaches.

You will have fewer headaches after the ECT and if you have headache it will be of lesser intensity.

Severe headaches - If you experience severe headaches after undergoing ECT, then pretreatment with intravenous ketorolac (NSAID) will be helpful to you. There are other agents as well like propoxyphene (check brand name in your country), tramadol and opioid derivaties which can be used alone or in combination for the management of severe headaches.

Migrainous headaches - Electoconvulsive therapy may cause migraine like headaches in certain people. In this case along with the agents mentioned above, specific agents for the treatment of migraine can be added. For e.g sumatriptan (check brand name in your country) 25 mg by mouth or 6 mg subcutaneous can be helpful.

Another agent used for the treatment of migraine is the ergot derivatives. However, these agents should not be used as a pretreatment of ECT because they can significantly affect the cardiovascular changes which occur during ECT.

Muscle Soreness - It can be treated by the use of simple painkillers for e.g. NSAIDS

Nausea and Vomiting - It can be treated by the use of antiemetic drugs before the start of ECT. For e.g. metoclopramide 10 mg intravenous or intravenous 10 mg of prochlorperazine. If there is a chance of adverse effect with these agents ( dopamine receptor antagonists) then alternative drug like ondansetron can be used.

Fractures - These days fractures can be easily avoided by the use of muscle relaxants as a pretreatment to ECT.

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