What is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?

Most of us have heard of the term ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, via TV shows or perhaps through the classic movie one flew over the Cuckoo's nest. However unless you or a family member have undergone ECT, it is likely that most people know very little about this dramatic and controversial treatment.

The effects of electroconvulsive therapy were discovered by accident in the early 20th century. Unfortunately its history is mired by considerable abuse of this technique in its early years. It is now deemed as a safe and reasonably effective treatment for very severe depression by the American psychiatric Association.

However, the treatment is still remains highly controversial. It is principally used when someone suffering from severe depression does not respond to medication or alternatively is in extreme danger of taking their own life. Sometimes the depression can be so deep as to make the three to four week waiting period for the medication to take effect concern to the life of the patient. Hence, under these circumstances, psychiatrists may consider using ECT as a last resort.

As used today, ECT is carried out in hospital situation. Patients anaesthetise and given muscle relaxing drugs to prevent bone breakage that can accompany the convulsions during seizures. These seizures are caused when the electric shock is administered directly to the brain. Each shock lasts for less than one second, they produce a seizure in the body and a series of brief convulsions which may last for several minutes.

Treatments are typically administered every second day for a total of six to 10 treatments. The number will be reduced if the patient should respond to treatment prior to the end of ten sessions.

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