Electroconvulsive Therapy

Sherwin Nuland, the surgeon and author, talks about the development of electroshock therapy as a cure for severe, life-threatening depression. Midway through, his story turns personal. It’s a moving and deeply felt talk about relief, redemption, second chances.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also known as electroshock or Electroshock Therapy.

It uses short bursts of electrical current (typically fixed at 0.9 ampere) into the brain to bring about a brief, artificial seizure when the patient is under general anesthesia.

Electroconvulsive Treatment

ECT has a notorious reputation: partly from its use in the USSR as a form of repression and due to its depiction in films, such as One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, it remains a common treatment when drugs fail; or when use of drugs is unacceptable, such  as during pregnancy. In contrast with earlier times, most countries now use ECT only under anesthesia. A regimen of treatment involves three treatments per week over three or four weeks. Repeat-sessions may be required. Side effects include short-term memory loss, disorientation, and headaches. There have been reports of permanent loss of memory, though such studies have not been confirmed.

Electroconvulsive Reactions



ECT offers a rapid response. However, it needs to be supported by additional electroshock or maintenance medication. In comparison to antidepressants, which require a month to act, ECT produces results much quicker. Consequently, it is the treatment-of-choice in emergencies (such as in Catatonic Depression in which the patient has ceased oral intake of fluid or nutrients). ECT is controversial. Scientific critics, like Dr. Peter Braggini, as well as advocacy groups have requested restrictions on its use. Like all psychiatric treatment, electroshock can be given without a patient’s consent. However, Electroconvulsive is subject to legal conditions applicable to each case.

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