What Is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) & Why You Might Need It?

Some people deal with bipolar disorder or severe depression that doesn’t respond to traditional treatments. There are other options available, and one of those options is Electroconvulsive Therapy. Simply known as ECT, this therapy is an electrical current that stimulates the brain. Unlike Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, patients who undergo ECT are given anesthesia before treatment. A team of trained medical professionals administers Electroconvulsive Therapy. The team is typically made up of a psychiatrist, a nurse, and an anesthesiologist.

What Is ECT?

Patients are generally given a muscle relaxant before being placed under anesthesia.

The medical professional places electrodes on the patient’s scalp and once under anesthesia, electric currents are applied. The brief electric current triggers a brief seizure in the brain and this is one of the quickest ways to relieve symptoms in suicidal and severely depressed patients. As the patient’s muscles are relaxed, this seizure generally triggers slight movement in the feet and hands. Under careful monitoring, patients are wakened just minutes later. The patient displays confusion initially, though this doesn’t last long.

Electroconvulsive therapy

It is also effective for those suffering from mania. It isn’t the first treatment medical professionals turn to upon a depression diagnosis. It’s for patients who have tried therapy and medication and had no improvement.

It has been in use since the 1940s, but it is one of the most misunderstood treatments. The side effects and risks associated with ECT are generally the results of misused equipment, poor training, or incorrect administration. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that it’s a quick fix. That is not the case, it happens concurrently with therapy. It isn’t a case of shocking someone out of a depressive episode. ECT therapy generally lasts for up to four weeks and may be given three times a week.

Why You Might Need ECT

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several reasons you might need ECT.

  • Severe depression, especially if there is psychosis present, suicidal ideations, or refusal to eat.
  • Treatment-resistant depression that has not improved with traditional treatments.
  • Severe mania
  • Catatonia
  • In dementia patients, agitation and aggression.
  • When other illnesses prevent the use of medications.
  • For treating schizophrenia.
  • For treating a patient who has previously positively responded to ECT.

Additionally, ECT may be appropriate when medications are inappropriate or when therapy has been ineffective. This includes during pregnancy when medications is unsafe to take, for older adults who can’t risk or tolerate potential medication side effects, and also for people who prefer the idea of ECT treatment rather than taking medication.

The Side Effects & Risks of ECT

As with any medical procedure, there are risks to ECT. It has been associated with difficulty learning as well as short-term memory issues. Some patients have reported difficulty remembering recent events that occurred in the week(s) before treatment. In the majority of cases, these memory issues resolve within a month or two of treatment. Additionally, there is always a risk associated with anesthesia. This is the same risk that comes with any other procedure.

The most common side effects from ECT are headache, confusion, confusion, nausea, fatigue, and slight memory loss that lasts from minutes to hours.

Before you can seek ECT treatment, you must undergo a psychiatric assessment and medical examination. You should discuss with your psychiatrist and ensure you fully understand the treatment before you consent to ECT.