Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is a type of physical procedure in which convulsive seizures are electrically induced under general anesthesia. It is considered one of the safest procedures done under general anesthesia. Typically, a series of such treatments done once every few days is used to treat certain psychiatric or medical conditions when several other kinds of treatments have failed or  the clinical situation is very urgent and unsafe.

Conditions commonly treated include, but are not limited to:

Additionally, ECT treatment has been shown in preliminary studies to occasionally be helpful for certain neurological conditions such as Parkinson's Disorder and status epilepticus, though such treatment at this time is "off-label."

ECT Service at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

The ECT Service does not directly admit patients but consults all in-patient psychiatric units including child psychiatry. A group of psychiatry faculty consults the rest of the Psychiatry Department and has specialized expertise in evaluating and administering electroconvulsive therapy. An ECT clinic evaluates new patients and medical management of present and former ECT patients. All ECT treatments are done under the constant supervision of an ECT faculty member and Anesthesia Department practitioners.

How can a patient be referred for evaluation and treatment?

Evaluation is arranged after referral from a patient’s primary care physician, psychiatrist, or neurologist. Outpatient ECT treatment is an increasingly popular choice but is only possible when necessary conditions for safety and supervision can be met. Otherwise, direct admission or hospital-to-hospital transfer must be arranged. See referral information for details.

Referral information

For psychiatrists wishing to refer a patient:

Please print and fill out this PDF iconform before faxing it to the ECT clinic.

  • Patient is in a psychiatric hospital
    • Call 319-384-5000, the UI Hospitals and Clinics “supertriage” area where hospital-to-hospital transfers are arranged
  • Patient is not currently hospitalized but is in need of direct psychiatric hospitalization because of acute symptoms
    • Follow procedures for arranging general psychiatric hospitalization at UI Hospitals and Clinics 
    • Let the accepting physician know that you are recommending ECT
    • Patient is not currently hospitalized or acutely unstable and in need of immediate hospitalization
      • Call the ECT Coordinator to request an outpatient ECT clinic evaluation
      • Records of previous treatment be faxed to the ECT Coordinator

    For patients seeking ECT:

    We strongly urge patients to work with their psychiatrist to treat their illness and, if necessary, arrive at the decision together to consider ECT treatment. Patients may request an outpatient evaluation directly at the ECT clinic to explore their history of symptoms and attempted treatments. Patients will also be educated on the potential benefits and risk of ECT. Evaluation at the ECT clinic does not automatically lead to ECT treatment, but may be the starting point for either outpatient or inpatient ECT treatment if deemed appropriate.

    Care Team