Electroconvulsive Therapy


Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a therapeutic procedure wherein electrical currents are passed through the brain in order to intentionally trigger a brief seizure. ECT seems to induce brain chemistry changes that can immediately reverse the symptoms of certain mental conditions. It's often used as a last resort when other treatments have failed.


ECT can offer significant and immediate improvements when it comes to relieving the symptoms of severe mental health conditions. It may be a beneficial procedure when it comes to helping people who are suicidal or have episodes of severe mania. It can also treat schizophrenia, severe depression, catatonia, and treatment-resistant depression.


ECT is a generally safe procedure wherein electrical currents are sent to your brain in a controlled setting to minimize the possible dangers. However, you may risk adverse effects from the anesthesia or from the procedure itself in the form of memory loss or serious heart problems.


Before ECT treatment, you need to go through the following: An ECG on your heart, basic blood tests, a physical exam, a psychiatric evaluation, and a review of your medical history. You also need to consult an anesthesiologist to go over anesthesia risks.


An IV catheter is placed into your arm wherein fluids or medications can be given. Doctors then place electrode pads on your head. The ECT can be bilateral (both sides of the brain receive electrical currents) or unilateral (one side of the brain is subjected to electricity). You may be anesthetized or sedated during the procedure.


ECT is safer today when compared to early treatments done without anesthesia and with high dosages of electricity. However, it still comes with some complications, which include confusion, memory loss or retrograde amnesia, and possible medical complications like heart rate and blood pressure increases.


Aside from heart conditions, memory loss, and confusion, the immediate physical side effects of ECT include muscle spasms, muscle ache, jaw pain, headache, vomiting, and nausea. However, these are all treatable side effects.


Within two to three months of ECT treatments, many people start to notice significant improvements in their symptoms. However, complete improvement will probably take a longer time to happen. In comparison, response to antidepressants can take several weeks or more to occur. ECT works by changing the chemical aspects of brain function after seizure activity, which somehow reduces the symptoms of many mental illnesses.
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