The continuously evolving technology has been continuously improving the quality of life by the day. Technology even plays a huge role in terms of health care. Through this, there have been new ways to diagnose diseases. At the same time, it has paved the way for new treatments as well.

For example, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a treatment that uses electric currents that pass through the brain to activate seizures. The administration of these electrical currents is under control to minimize the risks.

ECT changes the brain chemistry to treat mental conditions such as major depression, bipolar disorder, and catatonia. The procedure delivers fast improvements from severe mental health conditions, and it usually only lasts an hour! 

It was the next resort when prior treatments and medications failed to manage a mental health condition. Often, pregnant women and older adults receive ECT to avoid side effects caused by medications.

ECT is widely used in psychiatry, but it is not for everyone. Before the procedure, you may want to evaluate first to know if ECT is safe for you. It includes taking a complete physical exam and undergoing blood tests and a psychiatric assessment. Additionally, it is also essential to check the heart through an electrocardiogram (ECG). 

If you are worried about the pain during the procedure, do not worry because you will receive general anesthesia. There are also some special which include avoiding food and liquid from midnight.

Aside from general anesthesia, your health care provider will also give you a muscle relaxant. It will prevent your muscles from moving to minimize the seizure. Depending on the condition, you may also receive other medications.

Here are some frequently asked questions to help you decide whether to try electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or not.

What mental illness does ECT treat?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is typically used for individuals who have bipolar disorder or major depression. It is mainly for those who failed to respond to traditional medications and treatment methods for these conditions. ECT is a brain stimulation technique that includes quick electrical stimulation, and the patient must be under anesthesia.

What is the success rate of ECT?

ECT is considered an effective medical treatment for severe depression and bipolar disorder, with around 80 to 85% efficacy rate. It has been shown to reverse symptoms of these conditions altogether. Furthermore, it has approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Does ECT help with anxiety?

ECT is not generally used as a treatment for anxiety or anxiety disorder. However, it may be an applicable treatment method for comorbid anxiety and depression who haven’t responded to standard treatments.

Is ECT the same as shock therapy?

Yes. ECT is formerly known as electroshock therapy or simply “shock therapy.” It involves the attachment of electrodes to the scalp to direct electric current into the brain. This process causes a series of “generalized seizures.”

Who is a good candidate for ECT?

The ideal candidates for ECT are those with severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia who haven’t responded with prescription medications. It’s the first-line treatment for people with psychotic depression who experience hallucinations and delusions. People who have previously undergone and responded well with ECT are also good candidates for the treatment.

What are the negative side effects of ECT?

Although considered generally safe, some of the side effects and risks of ECT include:

  • Confusion and disorientation may last for a few minutes to several hours
  • Temporary memory loss of events that happened before the treatment
  • Physical side effects such as headache, nausea, muscle ache, or jaw pain
  • Rarely, the risk of medical complication for patients with cardiovascular problems

Can ECT make you worse?

After the treatment, the patient would still need standard care to avoid risks and side effects. Some patients have reported feeling worse after ECT because of its side effects or because it was given without consent.

Does ECT wear off?

The effects of ECT are often short-term, and it cannot prevent the relapse of the condition. A lot of patients still take their medications after ECT or undergo ECT periodically to prevent relapse.

How long is an ECT session?

One ECT session typically lasts an hour, where the patient is in the treatment room for 15 to 20 minutes. During the remaining 20 to 30 minutes, they will spend their time in the recovery room. Both inpatient and outpatient ECT patients generally undergo the treatment twice or thrice a week for 6 to 12 sessions. The session trajectory may vary depending on the patient’s condition.

Can ECT change your personality?

No. ECT cannot change an individual’s personality or treat personality disorders. However, it may cause temporary short-term memory impairment, which reverses a few weeks after the treatment.

Can ECT cause suicidal thoughts?

According to studies, ECT can actually cause the opposite. ECT has been found to reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts with several indications. It also works much faster than antidepressant medication for patients at immediate risk for self-harm or suicide.

Does ECT kill brain cells?

There is no evidence that medically-administered ECT can “kill” brain cells or cause brain damage. In fact, studies have shown that it can stimulate brain cell growth as it boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factors.

Does ECT cause weight gain?

There is presently limited research on the association of ECT with weight gain. One study on elderly patients with major depression and insufficient dietary intake who underwent ECT revealed that ECT had caused significant weight gain. However, we still need more clinical studies and conclusive evidence to prove that ECT can induce weight gain.

Does insurance cover ECT treatments?

Most health insurance plans include ECT treatments in their coverage. To confirm the coverage scope, please make sure to contact and check with your insurance provider.

Can ECT cause dementia?

The present research suggests that ECT does not cause or increase the risk of dementia in patients. It holds even for older patients with affective disorders.

Modern technology has helped psychiatry develop new and effective ways to treat several mental health conditions like major depression. ECT closely monitors your condition during the procedure to minimize the risks and identify potential complications.

ECT has also improved over time. It had an initial bad reputation in the medical field due to reports of memory loss. Since then, there has been a decrease in the dose of electric currents to prevent side-effects.

There have not been any studies yet that prove the efficacy of ECT. However, the chemical changes because of the seizure have proved to reduce the symptoms of these conditions. Moreover, the outcome of the procedure is also more effective compared to taking medications.

Still, there are possibilities of experiencing side-effects after the treatment. These possibilities vary depending on your medical condition. So, make sure to consult a doctor before deciding whether to try electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or not.

The recovery time usually takes weeks and months after the last treatment. You may have to take medications or less frequent ECT to prevent more episodes.

Families and friends can support the patient during this treatment process. They can help track the patient’s progress and report it to the health care provider.

Although electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been promising, it comes with risks as well. If you have been considering this treatment, it would be best to consult with a doctor first.

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