The physical properties of the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) stimulus markedly affect both efficacy and side effects. We review basic principles in characterizing these physical properties and in quantifying the ECT stimulus. The topics discussed include the application of Ohm's law, alternative composite units of ECT dosage (energy and charge), the use of constant-current, constant-voltage, and constant-energy principles in ECT devices, the nature of current shunting in ECT and the determinants of impedance, the relations between impedance and seizure threshold, the seizure-eliciting efficiency of alternative stimulus waveforms and of stimulus parameter configurations, and the role of reactive components (capacitance and inductance) in the ECT circuit. New findings are also presented regarding several of these issues.
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