Electroconvulsive Therapy - What is Electroconvulsive Therapy?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), previously known as electroshock, is a well-established, albeit controversial, psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in anesthetized patients for therapeutic effect.

Today, ECT is most often used as a treatment for severe major depression which has not responded to other treatment, and is also used in the treatment of mania (often in bipolar disorder), and catatonia.

It was first introduced in the 1930s and gained widespread use as a form of treatment in the 1940s and 1950s; today, an estimated 1 million people worldwide receive ECT every year, usually in a course of 6–12 treatments administered 2 or 3 times a week.

Electroconvulsive therapy can differ in its application in three ways: electrode placement, frequency of treatments, and the electrical waveform of the stimulus.

These three forms of application have significant differences in both adverse side effects and positive outcomes. After treatment, drug therapy is usually continued, and some patients receive continuation/maintenance ECT.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, drug therapy is continued during ECT. Informed consent is a standard of modern electroconvulsive therapy.

Involuntary treatment is uncommon in the United States and is typically only used in cases of great extremity, and only when all other treatment options have been exhausted and the use of ECT is believed to be a potentially life saving treatment.

Similarly, national audits of ECT use in Scotland and Ireland have demonstrated that the vast majority of patients treated give informed consent.

Experts disagree on whether ECT is an appropriate first-line treatment or if it should be reserved for patients who have not responded to other interventions such as medication and psychotherapy.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2001 guidelines give the primary indications for ECT among patients with depression as a lack of response to, or intolerance of, antidepressant medications; a good response to previous ECT; and the need for a rapid and definitive response (e.g. because of psychosis or a risk of suicide).

The decision to use ECT depends on several factors, including the severity and chronicity of the depression, the likelihood that alternative treatments would be effective, the patient's preference and capacity to consent, and a weighing of the risks and benefits.

Some guidelines recommend cognitive behavioral therapy or other psychotherapy before ECT is used. However, treatment resistance is widely defined as lack of therapeutic response to two antidepressants at adequate doses for an adequate duration and with good compliance.

The APA states that at times patients will prefer to receive ECT over alternative treatments, but commonly the opposite will be the case.

The APA ECT guidelines state that severe major depression with psychotic features, manic delirium, or catatonia are conditions where there is a clear consensus favoring early ECT.

The UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend ECT for patients with severe depression, catatonia, or prolonged or severe mania.

Indeed, the updated (2009) NICE guidelines for depression also provide for the use of maintenance ECT (where ECT is given at longer intervals to prevent relapse), although the guidance stresses the need for further study.

The 2001 APA guidelines also support the use of ECT for relapse prevention.

The 2001 APA ECT guidelines say that ECT is rarely used as a first-line treatment for schizophrenia but is considered after unsuccessful treatment with antipsychotic medication, and may also be considered in the treatment of patients with schizoaffective or schizophreniform disorder.

The 2003 NICE ECT guidelines do not recommend ECT for schizophrenia, and this has been supported by meta-analytic evidence showing no or little benefit versus placebo, or in combination with antipsychotic drugs, including Clozapine.

The NICE 2003 guidelines state that doctors should be particularly cautious when considering ECT treatment for women who are pregnant and for older or younger people, because they may be at higher risk of complications with ECT.

The 2001 APA ECT guidelines say that ECT may be safer than alternative treatments in the infirm elderly and during pregnancy, and the 2000 APA depression guidelines stated that the literature supports the safety for mother and fetus, as well as the efficacy during pregnancy.

Further Reading

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  1. Oana Green Oana Green United Kingdom says:

    Noi suntem o umanitate cretina care se indreapta cu pasi repezi catre autodistrugere!! Cum sa distrugi echilibrul electro-magnetic al corpului si sa iti bati joc de un om in halul asta? Mi-ar placea sa zic ca suntem in pom si pomu-n aer. Dar nici macar... Imi vine sa plang cand ma gandesc ca suntem niste ignoranti ingamfati care ne distrugem unii pe altii.. Cum sa numesti tortura si distrugerea corpului uman "tratament"? Noi habar n-avem ce face creierul si cum lucreaza, nici macar cei mai tari din domeniu. Dar... Hai sa ii bagam un 2.20 ca trece depresia... Bai... Noi tratam efectele, nu cauza. Treziti-va, oameni buni! Ca suntem oameni, nu maimute ignorante.

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