Depression – How Electroconvulsive Therapy Works
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How does ECT work?
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a method of stimulating the brain with electricity to treat some types of severe mental illness. It can be used to treat brain disorders as well. The procedure sends small electric currents through the brain. The currents trigger a brief seizure. This causes changes in the brain that can improve and even reverse troubling symptoms. These symptoms could include severe depression, mania, or aggression. ECT is often used when other kinds of treatment haven’t worked.
ECT is given in a series of treatments. The number of treatments depends on how severe the patient’s symptoms are. It is generally considered safe and effective.
Path to improved health
ECT is most often used on someone with severe depression. It is a fast-acting treatment. It can help someone who is suicidal much faster than other treatments, such as medicine or talk therapy. It can also help people whose depression is not responding to other treatments. ECT can be used when a patient is in a catatonic state. This is when a person is not moving or speaking. This can happen in people who have schizophrenia
What happens during treatment?
ECT may be given during a hospital stay, or a person can go to a hospital just for the treatment and then go home.
Before each treatment, an intravenous (IV) line will be started so medicine can be put directly into your blood. You will be given general anesthesia to put you to sleep. Then you’ll get a medicine to relax your muscles. Your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing will be watched closely.
During the procedure electrodes will be placed on your head. The electric current will pass through the electrodes and into your brain for 1 or 2 seconds. This will cause a seizure that usually lasts less than 1 minute. Because you are asleep and your muscles are relaxed, there are few signs that you are having a seizure. Your body doesn’t move and you don’t feel anything.
You will wake up within 5 to 10 minutes after the treatment and will be taken to a recovery room to be monitored. When you are fully awake, you can eat and drink, get dressed and return to your hospital room or go home.
Things to consider
ECT is generally safe, but as with most treatments, it has risks and side effects. Short-term memory loss is common. You may have trouble remembering things from the time surrounding the treatment. This usually gets better a few weeks after treatment has ended. Some people may have longer-lasting problems with memory after ECT. Other side effects include confusion right after a treatment, nausea, muscle aches, and headache.
Some people are wary of ECT because of how it’s been shown in movies or on TV. Improvements have been made to the procedure since it was developed in the 1930s. Today, it is considered a safe and effective treatment.
ECT does not work for everyone. It will not cure your underlying illness. Many patients need continuing treatment after doing ECT. This could include maintenance ECT treatments, talk therapy, medicine, or a combination of the three.