Usages & Risks Of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Changes in the brain chemistry can be achieved by passing electricity through brain. This phenomenon is known as Electroconvulsive therapy. When electric currents are passed through the patient’s brain, it triggers a brief seizure resulting in changes in brain chemistry.

Electroconvulsive therapy is widely practised in treating severe cases of depression as it can immediately reverse symptoms of depression. It is usually administered in those depressed patients who do not respond to other treatments.

Contrary to stigma associated with electroconvulsive therapy (when high dosage of electricity resulted in serious side effects such as memory loss, fractured bones, etc); Electroconvulsive therapy is a very safe procedure nowadays.

Electroconvulsive therapy is performed in a controlled setting that achieves maximum benefits with minimum side effects.

Common Usages of Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

  • Electroconvulsive Therapy offers considerable improvements in severe symptoms of mental disorders and that too immediately.
  • Used as an effective treatment therapy in patients who have suicidal tendency or episode of severe mania
  • Used in cases of severe depression with symptoms like psychosis, refusal to eat or desire to commit suicide
  • Recommend in treatment-resistant depression where patients with long-term depression do not respond to other medications or treatments
  • For treating schizophrenia, specifically if accompanied by psychosis or tendency to commit suicide or hurt others
  • For treatment of severe mania episode of bipolar disorder including state of hyperactivity, intense euphoria or agitation
  • Treatment of mania characterised by impulsive or risky behaviour, substance abuse or impaired decision making
  • Treatment of catatonia marked by lack of movement, lack of speech or strange movements

Moreover, Electroconvulsive therapy is used as last-resort treatment for following conditions.

  • Treatment-resistant obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Severe obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Conditions that cause movement problems or seizures
  • Tourette syndrome that doesn’t respond to other medications

ECT is recommended by psychiatrists in cases where patients do not respond to other treatment or medications.

Risks associated with ECT

Although ECT is a safe procedure that is performed in a controlled setting; there are few risks and side effects associated with it.

Memory loss: ECT can lead to drastic changes on the memory of treated patients. Patient may find it difficult to recollect events that occurred before the beginning of treatment (retrograde amnesia).

However, patient may show improvement in memory symptoms within few months after the treatment.

Physical side effects: Patient may suffer from headache, jaw pain, nausea, vomiting, muscle ache or other mild physical symptoms that can be treated with medications.

Medical complications: Patients may report medical complications in some cases like changes in heart rate, blood pressure and other heart conditions.

Confusion: Some patients may report state of confusion after the ECT treatment that may last for

few minutes to even several hours.

Results of ECT

The exact mechanism of ECT action is not known so it cannot be ascertained how ECT treats

patients with severe depression and other mental disorders. However, ECT is supposed to cause changes in chemical aspects of brain function resulting in reduced depression symptoms.

  • Symptomatic Improvement after two or three treatments
  • Full improvement in symptoms may take longer