What is ECT?
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a treatment for severe symptoms of mental illness that uses electric stimulus to produce a generalized seizure. Psychiatrists perform this medical treatment on patients who are medication resistant, chronically suicidal, chronically depressed, suffering from Bipolar Disorder, treatment resistant depression, severe and chronic psychosis to include catatonia or other similar psychotic disorders. It involves the application of an electrical stimulus to the scalp, which induces the brain to release neurotransmitters, assisting in the reduction of the severity of the illness and frequency of symptoms.
Why is ECT used?
ECT has been proven to be an effective and safe (medication alternative) treatment:
- For people experiencing extreme psychotic symptoms
- For people experiencing acute mania or severe depression
- Where previous responses to ECT have been effective
- Where other treatment strategies have been ineffective
- Where rapid treatment response is required
Benefits of ECT:
We know that ECT works:
- About 80% of patients who receive a full course of treatment with ECT find rapid relief from their symptoms.
- Approximately 80% to 90% of depressed people who receive ECT respond favorably.
- Fewer side effects than medication.
- Results are gained almost immediately. ECT has helped patients start recovering faster than any medication.
- Its success rate is higher than for those just taking antidepressants.
- Patients who have responded to ECT report that it makes them fell “like themselves again” or “as if life was worth living again.” Severely depressed patients may become more optimistic and less suicidal.
- Many patients recover their ability to work and lead a productive life after their depression has been treated with a course of ECT.
- Such strong evidence for efficacy of ECT over other psychiatric disorders continues to be accumulated.
Procedure for ECT:
Before the commencement of ECT treatment, a complete assessment is carried out to determine the person’s physical status. This includes a full blood test & physical examination, chest x-ray and ECG (electrocardiograph). The person is asked to not eat or drink from midnight of the night before the procedure. On the day of the procedure, a general anesthetic is administered. Then, the psychiatrist administers a brief, controlled electrical impulse to the scalp, which induces a mild & short seizure. The person usually wakes from the anesthesia shortly after the ECT treatment.
Course for ECT:
To achieve optimum outcomes for the individual, ECT involves a series of treatments. A typical course of treatment would be given three times a week, with a total number of treatments averaging between six and twelve. The number of treatments will vary according to the individual.
Possible side effects of ECT:
- People commonly experience confusion & disorientation in the hour after treatment, but this subsides during the day.
- Headache, nausea & muscle aches are common
- During the ECT, difficulty recalling recently learned information can occur. However, this function is fully regained in the weeks following completion of the course of treatment.