ECT is a treatment for severe mental health conditions.

“ECT can be used to treat many people with schizophrenia. When other treatments, like therapy and medication, haven’t helped, healthcare professionals may recommend ECT.”

“ECT is used in combination with other treatments to cure schizophrenia. It may help change some parts of the brain. Some people say the process is like a computer. It isn’t that simple.”

The effectiveness of ECT for schizophrenia is explored in this article. You will learn about what to expect during and after the procedure, as well as who is a good candidate for ECT.

Research suggests that ECT is an effective treatment for people with schizophrenia who don’t respond to other treatments.

In particular, the authors of a 2019 review of studies concluded that ECT, as an add-on therapy, was an effective treatment for people with treatment-resistant schizophrenia. They added that people typically experience minimal cognitive side effects from ECT. In some cases, they may even see cognitive improvements.

The authors of a 2018 review came to a similar conclusion. They added that ECT may be a useful therapy for other people with schizophrenia, not only those who have not found help in other treatments.

The authors of a different 2019 review agreed that, when used as an add-on therapy for people with treatment-resistant schizophrenia, ECT can have a positive effect. But they said there is a need for more research into using ECT for schizophrenia before it can be recommended as a standard part of care.

There is more research that needs to be done to understand when ECT is most likely to work.

Finally, a 2021 study of hospital records from 2,131 people with schizophrenia found that people who received ECT treatment were less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within the next 6 months.

“Some people with Schizophrenia don’t see their symptoms improving after ECT. It is not clear why. Some people are more difficult to deal with than others.”

Combining ECT and medication

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) guidelines for schizophrenia treatment, released in 2021, some research suggests that using medication alongside ECT might make ECT more effective.

ECT and clozapine are atypical antipsychotics that are frequently used to treat schizophrenia.

A 2016 review of clinical trials and other medical reports looked at the combined effects of ECT and clozapine in 192 people with treatment-resistant schizophrenia. The authors reported that about 66% of people responded positively to the treatment. They noted that ECT may also increase the effectiveness of clozapine.

ECT is a painless procedure that is done while you are under anesthesia. Doctors attach electrical currents to your head. This causes a seizure.

ECT can be done in a hospital or medical clinic. It is an outpatient procedure, which means you can be out of the hospital in a few hours.

Your doctor will provide you with instructions on what to do before your procedure. You may be asked to avoid food and drink for about 8 hours before your procedure so that you can have general anesthesia.

Your healthcare team might start by checking your vital signs. A doctor will place some electrical wires on your head. Some of the electrodes deliver electrical currents that cause a seizure, while others monitor your brain activity.

Your medical team will give you drugs through your IV line, including anesthesia to put you to sleep and a muscle relaxant to prevent your muscles from contracting during a seizure.

The procedure is only a few minutes. Once you wake up, you will rest while nurses watch to make sure your vital signs are normal.

Doctors recommend that you have someone take you home after the treatment. You should not drive for the next 24 hours.

ECT is done 2 to 3 times per week for around 4 to 6 weeks, but your doctor will determine the best treatment schedule for you.

People with schizophrenia might require up to 20 sessions in total. A higher number of sessions appears to be associated with greater improvements in symptoms.

For example, the authors of the 2021 study of hospital admissions found that among the people with schizophrenia who received ECT treatments, those who received nine or more sessions were less likely to be readmitted in the following 6 months than those who received fewer than nine sessions.

According to a 2018 review, there is some evidence to support the use of ECT at regular intervals throughout life to prevent relapse in people with schizophrenia. This is known as maintenance ECT (M-ECT).

A small 2020 cohort study found that M-ECT was generally well-tolerated and effective in maintaining symptom improvements. But, significant cognitive effects were reported in 11% of cases.

There are a lot of myths about the therapy. In the past, people were given high doses of electricity without anesthesia, which caused pain and memory loss.

ECT uses small, controlled doses of electricity to target specific areas of the brain. It is only given to people under anesthesia.

ECT has a risk of side effects, but they are usually mild and temporary. Potential side effects include:

  • Confusion: You might feel confused or disoriented when you wake up from the procedure. The confusion associated with ECT usually goes away within a few hours, but it can last longer for some people.
  • Memory impairments: ECT may cause minor memory loss. You might not be able to remember what happened immediately before or after the procedure. You might also have difficulty remembering events that happened during the weeks you received treatment. Memory impairments are temporary and usually resolve once treatment ends.
  • Stiffness: Following the procedure, you might experience muscle aches, tension, or stiffness. For instance, your jaw or head might hurt.
  • Nausea: Nausea is a potential side effect of both general anesthesia and ECT. If necessary, your doctor can provide medication to help with nausea.
  • Medical complications: Most people can undergo general anesthesia without experiencing complications. But health concerns such as heart conditions or high blood pressure may increase your risk of complications.

If you are concerned about side effects, talk to a doctor. They can help you balance the risks and benefits of ECT based on your medical history.

Antipsychotic drugs are the first-line treatment for schizophrenia. Typical antipsychotics include chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, and haloperidol. Atypical antipsychotics, which some people think have a better side effect profile, include clozapine and risperidone.

Yet, up to 30% of people with schizophrenia do not experience a satisfactory improvement in their symptoms after taking antipsychotic drugs. In these cases, ECT may be used alongside the medication.

In other words, your doctor probably won’t suggest ECT unless you’ve tried a few medications and they have not helped. In addition, your doctor might recommend other interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), before ECT.

The APA suggests that combining antipsychotic medication and ECT might help people who have severe symptoms of schizophrenia, such as catatonia or suicidal behavior. If ECT helps, it can be used on a regular maintenance basis.

Brain stimulation uses electricity or magnets to change brain chemistry. ECT is the most common brain stimulation therapy for schizophrenia.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

TMS stimulates the nervous system via electromagnetic pulses. It’s been used to treat several mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

According to the APA, there isn’t enough evidence that TMS can help with symptoms of schizophrenia. There is a need for more high quality research on the role of TMS in treating schizophrenia.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS)

“Seizures and Parkinson’s disease are two conditions that are treated with sds. The brain has electrical wires that give electrical impulses. A small device on the chest can be used to control these impulses.”

DBS is a relatively new therapy, and there isn’t much research into whether it can help people with schizophrenia. According to the APA, it might be useful in treating tardive dystonia, a side effect associated with the long-term use of antipsychotic medications.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)

VNS involves using a small device to send a mild electrical pulse up the vagus nerve to the brainstem. The vagus nerve plays a role in several key biological functions, including digestion and mood.

“This therapy can help with depression, but it’s unclear if it’s helpful in treating schizophrenia. There is not enough evidence to conclude that VNS can benefit people with schizophrenia.”

“ECT is a treatment for schizophrenia that works when other therapies don’t. It involves sending a mild electrical current through the brain.”

Treatment for ECT involves several weekly sessions for around 4 to 6 weeks. It is used with the medication.

ECT can cause temporary memory loss and physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches and stiffness. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of ECT, you should talk to a doctor.